NAIROBI, 20 April 2011 (IRIN) - Officials and aid workers in Somalia's Middle Shabelle region have raised the alarm over the plight of drought-stricken villagers urgently needing food and water.
"We are experiencing the worst drought we have seen in decades; since the beginning of March, we have buried 54 people who died from the effects of the drought, seven of them today [20 April]," said Ali Barow, leader of the small town of Guulane, 220km northeast of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Barow said Guulane and the surrounding villages of Eil Barwaaqo, Hirka Dheere and Hagarey, with an estimated population of 20,000-25,000, were suffering the effects of a prolonged drought.
He said a local NGO had undertaken water trucking but it was not enough and "did not reach most of the residents. They did well but ran out of money before they could make much of a difference."
Abukar Abdulahi Tifow, the country director of the Women and Child Care Organization (WOCCA), a local NGO, who visited some of the villages, told IRIN the situation was desperate. "What we saw was depressing; some of the villagers were eating wild berries and cooking 'garaz' [a yellowish bean normally eaten by animals during drought]; that was all the food they had."
Tifow said his group trucked water for 1,420 families (about 8,520 people) in the four weeks they were there. "Unfortunately, there were many more we did not reach. We simply ran out of funds."
He said all the water points in the area had dried up. "The remaining water points are not fit for human consumption but people are desperate and will drink anything."
Tifow said almost all the deaths were water related. "Most of them died of AWD [acute watery diarrhoea] that was caused by drinking contaminated water."
Alasow Sharey Bool, 80, said both people and livestock were dying in the area. "In my 80 years, I have never experienced what I have seen now. This is the worst drought I have witnessed in my lifetime."
Bool said he had seen animals trying to eat the entrails of a dead animal: "That is how desperate the situation is."
He said in the past three years, the area had had very little or no rain. "What is making it worse is that we don't have anything to fall back on. We have not recovered from the last drought and now this one seems to be going on for ever.
"We have had problems with food shortages and water but I have never seen anything quite like this," Bool said, urging aid agencies to help.
A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said: "The entire region [Middle Shabelle] is suffering from a combination of a severe drought and incredibly high prices for the most basic necessities and needs help."
According to UN estimates, at least 2.4 million Somalis need help across the country, with another 1.4 million being displaced.