(Schalk Van Zuydam/Associated Press)
Famine stalks Somali refugees
Deprivation is acute in holy month of fasting
(Schalk Van Zuydam/Associated Press)
DADAAB, Kenya - As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins, Faduma Aden is fasting during the day even though she does not have enough food to celebrate with a sundown feast.
The Somali mother of three, who fled starvation in her homeland and now lives at a Kenyan refugee camp, says she will fast because she fears God.
Muslims around the world mark sundown during the holy month of Ramadan that began yesterday with extravagant dinners after not eating from sunrise to sundown. That kind of nighttime celebration is unthinkable this year for most Somalis, who are already suffering empty stomachs during the worst famine in a generation.
Despite the lack of food, for Somalis like Aden it is a matter of faith to participate in Ramadan’s fast, even though Islam allows the ailing to eat. Others, though, are ashamed that they do not have enough food for the sundown dinner.
“How I will fast when I don’t have something to break it?’’ said Mohamed Mohamud Abdulle. “Today is the worst day I ever faced. All my family are hungry, and I have nothing to feed them. I feel the hunger that forced me from my home has doubled here.’’
Tens of thousands of Somalis have already fled starvation to the world’s largest refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, where Abdulle said people cannot fast without food “to console the soul’’ at sundown.
For most of the Muslim world, Ramadan falls this year at a time of rising food prices and political upheaval. Food prices typically spike during the Muslim religious month, and the elaborate dinners many in the Middle East put on to break the daily fast drive a deep hole in household budgets.
Somalis fleeing famine say they have been unintentionally fasting for weeks or months, but without the end-of-day meal to regain their strength.
“I cannot fast because I cannot get food to break it and eat before the morning,’’ said Nur Ahmed, a father of six at a camp in Mogadishu called Badbado. Ahmed’s wife died last year during childbirth, he said.
Sheik Ali Sheik Hussein, a mosque leader in Mogadishu, called it worrying that many Somalis cannot fast because they do not have the food to break it with.
“We have asked all Muslims to donate to help those dying from hunger,’’ he said. “Muslims should not be silent on this situation, so we shall help if Allah wills.’’
President Obama, in a statement yesterday for Ramadan, said that fasting can be used to “increase spirituality, discipline, and consciousness of God’s mercy.’’
Obama said now is a time for the world to come together to offer support for famine relief.
“The heartbreaking accounts of lost lives and the images of families and children in Somalia and the Horn of Africa struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and compel us to act,’’ Obama said.
Some in the communities around the Dadaab refugee camps have already followed that advice by helping hungry refugees moving into the region. At the Dagahaley refugee camp, part of the larger Dadaab camps, three distributing centers run by local elders provide food and money each day to more than 1,000 families and individuals.
The Dadaab initiative started with people at nearby mosques who wanted to respond to the needs of refugees who were pouring into this camp. They called former refugees to help the new arrivals with whatever they can find. Food, money, clothing and mattresses were donated.
The United Nations says more than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa need food aid, but that 2.2 million need aid in a region of south-central Somalia controlled by the Al Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab, which has not let many aid agencies operate in its territory, including the UN World Food Program.
In a bit of good news, though, the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday it is distributing food to 162,000 people in south-central Somalia affected by drought and armed violence.