‘Hungry for days’: Drought’s cruel toll on pregnant Somali women

Aisha Hussein, nine-months pregnant with her first baby, felt her first contractions in early November. She knew that she needed to visit a health centre from Mareerey in Somalia.

She The 16-year old boarded a minibus taxi to get to the mother and baby hospital in Kismayo. It is located about 100km away.

Hussein saw a doctor for only the second time in her pregnancy. She said that she was unable to afford care due to distance and the high cost. This was mainly due to the drought. “I didn’t have money to get to the nearest free maternity hospital in Kismayo in time because we lost all our income from farming and couldn’t afford transportation money,” she told Al Jazeera over the phone from Kismayo.

Somalia is currently experiencing its worst drought in 40-years. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in the country, says that it has displaced and threatened more than 1.9million women and girls of childbearing years.

Mareerey was once a vibrant farming village. Now it is deserted by the drought. Hussein arrived at the health center that day to find a ward full of thin, starving women and children.

Hussein said, “I was also weak when admitted because I was hungry for many days while I was pregnant, which was due the severe dryness.”

The healthcare staff took her to a medical evaluation, but there were complications. After After four days of bleeding, Hussein was monitored by health personnel and was admitted to the theatre to have a caesarean. Tragically, her baby girl died.

“I feel pain, but it is God’s grace; God has given me before and he has taken away; what can I do? An emotional Hussein said, “Nothing.”

She She is now receiving medical supervision and is currently recovering.

Mahat Ali, who was a doctor at Kismayo General Hospital and treated Hussein’s wounds, said that she was lucky to have survived.She Doctor Ali said that Ali was malnourished, and that her baby suffered from prolonged vaginal bleeding, and intrauterine growth retardation. This led to her baby weighing in at 2.3 kilograms, which is below the normal birth weight.

Hussein stated, “My malnourished body impacted on the baby in the womb.”

‘Facing famine’

The drought is affecting nearly half of Somalia’s population, 7.6 million people.

Somalia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 692 deaths per 100,000 live-born babies. The UN also says that drought and displacement have made it difficult to provide adequate sexual and reproductive health services.

The number of women who are malnourished while pregnant or breastfeeding is on the rise. This poses serious risks to their well-being and health. Hussein’s doctor stated that even if Hussein’s baby survived, the mother who was not properly fed would not be able to breastfeed her.

Noorta Ali, 21 years old, is a mother of four, and a farmer. She lives about 600 kilometers from Hussein’s hospital.

After Ali lost all her crops because of three consecutive failed rainy season in Awdiinle. This was a village once agriculturally wealthy, 30 km west Baidoa. “We had no clean water to drink and nothing to eat; we lost all our crops because there was no rainfall and no income,” Ali told Al Jazeera over the phone.

Her life and farming activities were severely affected by the devastating effects of the drought.

A mother holds her malnourished child at Banadir Maternity and Children Hospital, Mogadishu [File: Ed Ram/AFP]

Ali, like Hussein did not visit the doctor during her pregnancy and she lost her baby. She explained that she gave birth in a rural area where traditional midwives are the only options. “I struggled to provide for my family and was not thinking about my pregnancy; as a result, I lost my three-day-old underweight baby after he choked on the cervix,” she said.

She She fled the village with her four remaining children. She They are being treated for anemia and malnutrition in the camp for internally displaced persons (IDP).

UNFPA, a United Nations agency for sexual, reproductive and health health, recently reported that access has been severely compromised in Somalia’s districts at high risk of famine.

“Nearly a quarter of a million women are currently pregnant and 80,000 will give birth in the next three months — an average of 900 deliveries a day — in a country where maternal mortality is already high,” the report said.

It continues, “Also 15% of all Somalia’s pregnant mothers experience complications, which equates to 12,400 complicated births in the next three-months to the displaced populations.”

The report states that each of these numbers represents a woman of childbearing years who has suffered from severe drought, rising food costs, severe water shortages and the death of livestock.

Abdirahman Abdishakur is Somalia’s official representative for drought relief. He warns that disaster could occur unless the international community takes urgent action. “All concrete indications show that the country is facing famine and that 80 percent of the people affected are women, children and the elderly. Al Jazeera told him that the country is facing famine.

“I couldn’t feed my kids”

Natalia Kanem is UNFPA’s executive Director. She stated that UNFPA is working with other UN agencies on some of these issues, including increasing the delivery of life-saving protection and reproductive health services.

“We are calling on $79.4 million in Somalia for the remainder of 2022 and through 2023 as part of our response to the drought in the Horn of Africa and calling on the international community to fund reproductive health and gender-based violence . psychosocial support,” Kanem told Al Jazeera.

According to the UN, at least 720,000 Somali girls and women are at risk from gender-based violence.

The reason for the high rate of violence against women is that they are now more likely to be sexually assaulted because they travel longer distances in order to obtain food and water. UN data has shown that there has been a 21 per cent increase in reported cases of rape in drought-stricken areas since 2021, out of nearly two million displaced women.

A Mother And Child In Somalia
A mother and her baby at Banadir Hospital Mogadishu [Luis Tato/UNFPA Somalia]

Officials from aid say that there is a need for mental health care for depressed camp residents.

Asma Adan (29), a Gof-gaduud village northwest of Baidoa, said that her depression was due to the loss of all her crops and livestock in the Dolow District.

“The worst part was when I couldn’t get anything to feed my children for two days and had no clean water. My children and I are malnourished and that has a major impact on my mental health,” Adan, who lives in the camp with her four children, told Al Jazeera. “Because of the depression, I also lost my period.”

She Dolow Health Center is treating her for pelvic inflammation disease.

Hussein was a primary caretaker for her family in Mareerey, despite her young age. She She says that this drought is the worst she has ever experienced and has changed their lives completely.

“I pray to God that we will overcome this and hope to go back to my rural area and rebuild the farming business and my life,” Hussein said, still hopeful.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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