CBS News goes to Somali hospitals where hunger caused by climate change is killing children

Baidoa, Somalia — Almost half of the 16 million people who live in Somalia face extreme hunger. More than a third of the 5 million children under the age of five in the East African nation are acutely malnourished. Hunger and the health complications it causes bringing a Somali child to a health facility every minute.

Somalia’s children are among the youngest victims of climate change. CBS News visited an intensive care unit where every child under the age of five, all of whom were hospitalized because of the climate change-induced drought that was starving their country.

The security situation in Somalia, where the al Qaeda affiliates are The terrorist group al-Shabaab holds a significant position, which blocks humanitarian work, contributes to the disaster, but other human actions are also to blame. A 2020 survey ranked Somalia as the world’s second most vulnerable nation to the impacts of climate change, and the drought shows how that risk is manifesting itself.

After more than two years without rain there is nothing left to eat.

A malnourished child is treated at a hospital in Baidoa, southern Somalia, in November 2022 as a climate change-induced drought sparks a hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa.

CBS News

Amir was among the youngest in the hospital in Baidoa, in arid southern Somalia. A little over a year old, he was not only underweight, but also suffering from diarrhea and fever. If he hadn’t made it to the hospital in time, one of the doctors said, he probably would have died.

The medics see several cases like Amir every day. As we began reporting to the hospital, another severely malnourished child was admitted.

It was the same at nearby Bay Hospital, where beds in the pediatric intensive care unit are filling up quickly.

There, 10-month-old Fatun was being treated for severe malnutrition complicated by pneumonia. She opened her mouth to cry, but her frail body was too weak. She couldn’t even shed tears, just a gaping, silent scream.

Two-year-old Naema defied all odds. She was slowly recovering, but her body was still difficult to see as it was covered with third-degree burns. The wounds were actually the result of kwashiorkor, a form of severe malnutrition in which a person’s body is deprived of so much protein that their skin tissue swells and then ruptures. Naema was covered in weeping, infected sores.

Somalia is facing widespread famine during its worst drought in 40 years


Then another newcomer walked in and it was a medical emergency.

Two-year-old Malyun was dying. Her blood oxygen levels were dangerously low – 37, when it should have been closer to 100. She was bloated from severe malnutrition.

Hunger had engulfed her, and her body was spinning. As her blood sugar plummeted, the toddler was so limp that she didn’t even flinch when a nurse inserted an IV to save her life.

The little girl’s mother, Farhiya Adan, was worried sick and her grandmother was too upset to continue to watch as the hospital staff worked with practiced urgency.

Many of the children admitted to Somalia’s hospitals don’t make it.

dr Abdullahi Yusuf told us that today it is simply “not fair” that children do not have access to food and basic medical care.

But many families just can’t make the long journey to a hospital in time, said Dr. Said Yusuf to CBS News.

“Sometimes they come down the street with a dying child,” he said, acknowledging the emotional toll the crisis is taking on him and his colleagues. “Just seeing a kid die in front of you every day… we have nightmares sometimes.”

And the nightmares keep coming.

About 36 hours later, Malyun, who had spent her entire short life starving, went into septic shock. We were there as she took her last labored breaths.

Malyun, 2, struggles to breathe as her body, bloated from severe malnutrition, becomes a septic in a hospital in Baidoa, Somalia, in November 2022 amid a widespread hunger crisis fueled by climate change-induced drought shock succumbs.

CBS News

United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned more than a month ago that he had “no doubt” that one already exists famine in Somalia. A formal declaration of hunger comes when a region or nation meets certain prescribed criteria related to mortality rates, insecurity, and other metrics. It won’t trigger a legal response, but it will often prompt the international community to help more urgently.

When famine was last declared in Somalia in 2011, more than 250,000 people died from malnutrition, half of them under the age of five. The world has vowed never to let that happen again.

Doctors on the ground have been telling CBS News for weeks that they expect formal famine in some Somali regions in November, but Malyun’s story is harrowing clear evidence that if it ever happens, it will be too late for many children.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is providing emergency food and medical care to children in the Horn of Africa. Click here to learn more about this work.

Tucker Reals of CBS News in London contributed to this report.


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