“I left my home because nobody was helping us”




“I left my home because nobody was helping us. I brought my seven children. Five of them died in one week just after we arrived”

Mark Huband in Baidoa, Somalia

The Guardian, 10 August 1992

They huddle beneath the rusting wrecks of army trucks left by fleeing soldiers. They draw their rotting rags around them as they crouch around the embers of a fire. The dying children of Baidoa drag their fading bodies along the sandy streets of a town engulfed by the cries of the hungry.

A tall boy eases himself painfully down on to a lorry tyre lying beside the road. His legs twist awkwardly. His bare shoulders stretch beneath skin caked in mud and dust. He slowly twists his wasted body until he is half lying, half crouching on the tyre. Barely moving, he fingers the sandy ground.

The owner of the Bikiin restaurant stares out across the street. Soldiers pass in a heavily-armed Jeep, a mounted machine-gun jutting out across the camouflage-painted bonnet. Two boys run past, one carrying a model machine-gun made from twisted metal the other with one carved from wood. They yell and laugh as they chase each other.

Meat and pancakes are cooking in the Bikiin restaurant. The owner says he buys his rice for 120,000 Somali shillings £10) a sack, and goes all the way to Mogadishu to get it. The sacks are printed with the US foreign aid symbol of two hands clasped in a handshake.

He is nervous when asked where he really bought it. Emergency rice supplies to Baidoa have the same symbol. Outside the restaurant, donkey carts pass laden with the same sacks. The rice market is thriving.

A lorry blocks the main market street. Tiny dying children stare blankly out as they shuffle aimlessly through the throng of adult legs, patient donkeys, stalls selling packets of salt, neat piles of stock cubes, pans and cooking spoons. Sandalled feet skirt around exhausted, rag-wrapped bodies curled in the sand.

“There are homeless. There are starving. Some people care. Other people don’t,” says Chris Giannou, a surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross Flying Surgeons Team. He stubs out a cigarette in the room next to the operating theatre, his plastic apron smeared with blood. He has operated on 49 people in Baidoa hospital since his team arrived eight days ago. All his patients have been suffering from gunshot wounds, and one from a bomb blast.

The fighting in and around Baidoa, between the retreating army of the deposed president Mohamed Siad Barre and forces of the coalition Somali Liberation Army of General Mohamed Farah Aidecd, stopped three months ago. It is only now that the injured can find treatment for three- and four-month-old wounds. The town’s refugee population is estimated at between 20,000 and 30.000. Many of Baldoa’s own original population of 60,000 fled hundreds of miles to the coast during the fighting. All their homes have been destroyed in fighting, the ruins occupied by the influx from areas without food.

Battles shattered the lives of the living as much as the dead. Barre’s troops slaughtered the animals they couldn’t steal, and burned the villages as they left. Now, the blackened ruins of deserted homes line the road to Baidoa. Displaced families coming out of the bush wander towards the town, towards Mogadishu, towards food.

“Twelve people died here last night. Come and see. Come and see them,” says Isak Ali Ibrahim. He leads me through the parched ruins of Sooqxolaha animal market, where he hands out meals of rice provided by the ICRC. Roofless rooms around a small courtyard with a dry well. Faces staring through frameless windows. Old dying men leaning against the mud walls. Sooqxolaha has no medicine. The infirmary – roofless, bare, no door – is where the people who cannot move are laid.

A loose sheet of corrugated iron is picked up by the wind and clatters on the roof of the mortuary. The dead are lined up on the mud floor to be washed by Aamen Xarad. She has no gloves to wear when she washes them. There are no more white sheets to wrap the bodies in, nothing to block the nose and mouth of the corpses.

“We used to get food rations for doing this. Now we have been promised that we will get paid,” she says.

“The problem is becoming more extreme because there are places to the north that no aid has reached, so more people are coming into town. We have newcomers each day. Thirty-five new people every coming,” says Nur Salad, who runs Baidoa’s Harsad feeding centre, one four set up in the town by the Irish relief organisation Concern. “There are so many people that we are only taking the children who are very malnourished, and adults whose condition is very serious.”

n the past 10 days 35 children at Harsad have died. Twelve died on one day. “I left my home in Berdala Bayad district two months ago because nobody was helping us,” says Fatima Abdi Yarow. “I brought my children. There were seven of them. My husband was not with us. He died. Five of my children died in one week just after we arrived here. They died from hunger,” she says, holding on to the two children she has left.

“The boxes we bring the biscuit packets in are used as stretchers. The empty rice sacks are what we wrap the bodies in. The mother’s hearts are being broken by the sound of crying children,” says Anita Ennes, director of Ccncern’s operations in Baidoa.

At its Isha feeding centre 2,300 of the 3,829 children are malnourished: “People have been eating goat skins and leaves, so diarrhoea is a terrible problem, and children are picking up grains of food from the ground where the diarrhoea is,” says Ms Ennes. ”It’s a huge task to get a general ration distribution going when you have no real idea of figures, with new people arriving every day. We need to flood the market with food.”


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