Aug. 1: A U.N. representative says that famine in the Horn of Africa is spreading and may soon engulf as many as six more regions in Somalia. The number of people in urgent need of food could keep growing over the next three or four months. NBC's Kate Snow reports from Dadaab, Kenya.
By Kate Snow, NBC News Correspondent
DADAAB, Kenya – Osman Ali is a tall man who walks with purpose. He has the gait of someone who’s done a lot of walking in his life.
No surprise – he is a herder. Or rather, he was. Most of the Somali refugees here in Dadaab have left behind a nomadic lifestyle involving goats, cattle or crops.
"I had 40 camels, 30 goats and 60 cattle," he told me proudly as we walked the red-dirt path back to his temporary hut on the outskirts of the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab. Not anymore. When the drought hit, his livestock died of starvation, one by one. Eventually, he had no way to make a living for his large family. (Ali has two wives with 11 children between them).
With no other alternative, Ali gathered his own family and some of his siblings and their families. The entire clan set out from Dinsor, Somalia, on foot. It took them 20 days and 20 nights of walking to reach the camp.
Ali says they were lucky none of the women were hurt or brutalized along the journey. There have been many reports of rape and sexual violence against the women who have been forced to flee their homes in Somali to reach refugee camps in northern Kenya.
But he did lose a nephew who died of hunger as they made the long trek.
Home now is a tent he built out of branches, covered in plastic bags. When he invited me inside, I had to duck and watch out for thorns. The entire hut was about 8 feet in diameter – the size of a two-person backpacking tent. Ali is living there with one of his wives and six children.
As we walked in, I jumped back. A 2-year-old was barely visible, asleep on the ground. I nearly stepped on her. She was tinier than a 2-year-old should be.
I asked Ali how long he thinks he can live like this. He shrugged. "This is the situation we’re in," he said. "We have to live here."
"We have no choice," he said. And then he rubbed his thumb and fingers together, the universal sign for money. No money.
Yes, he is angry. But he is also resigned, tired and hungry.
Despite that hunger, the Ali clan is observing the traditional Ramadan fast. They won’t eat at all until sundown. And then the women will prepare dinner for everyone.
This afternoon they hauled back their first rations of oil and flour after being processed at the refugee camp. The rations are supposed to be enough to last three weeks. Ali believes it won’t last that long. They have to share their supply with other members of their clan who have none. It is, he said, the right thing to do.
See more of Kate Snow's reporting on the famine in East Africa on Nightly News tonight.