With eyes glued to the frail movements of her malnourished baby with protruding ribs and sunken eyes, Fadumo Abdi Ibrahim was unable to stop her tears in the heavily crowded feeding center in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. She waved a scrap of fabric over him to create a current of air.
She is among the thousands of desperate people streaminginto Somalia's capital seeking food as a result of a prolonged drought, overwhelming local and international aid agencies.
The Somali government warns of a looming famine. An estimated 5 million Somalis, out of a population of 10 million, need humanitarian assistance, according to the UN humanitarian office.
About 363,000 acutely malnourished children "need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished," said the U.S. Agency for International Development's Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
Ibrahim carried her 9-month-old boy, Ali Hassan, to Mogadishu 10 days ago. A mother of five, she is a proud farmer who grew maize (corn) on her family's farm in Toratorow, an agricultural town in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, before rainy seasons failed three times over a two-year period.
"We were not able to get anything to eat, not even waterthe entire environment is so parched," she said, cradling herson's bony legs and waving away flies from his face. She saidshe left to seek food for her baby, leaving her four older children with their father on the farm. She said the kids would not have been able to survive the trek.
Ibrahim's journey to Mogadishu wasn't easy. She and other families hiked all day and night over 30 kilometers (nearly 20miles) across the dry landscape. Hundreds of hungry families are making the trip to seek food distribution in Somalia'scapital, Mogadishu.
"We found several bodies of children on the road," she said, describing how mothers were too weak to carry the little corpses. Fears are rising of a full-blown famine in Somalia. Large-scale aid is needed to avert an imminent disaster, according to the Somali government.
"The dire situation calls for international collaboration and regional partnership between governments, civil society, aid organisations, business and international donors," said the government this month encouraging regional cooperation tocombat the effects of the drought.
Somalia's ongoing conflict against the Islamic extremistrebels of al-Shabab has compounded the problems of harvest failure. The widespread hunger "is taking a particularly heavy toll on children and women, and makes people vulnerable toexploitation, human rights abuses and to criminal and terrorist networks," said the government statement.
Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, more in some areas, have caused large-scale crop failures and high levels of livestock deaths, according to the United Nations Officefor Humanitarian Coordination.