Officials in Somalia's Middle Shabelle Region have raised the alarm over the plight of a community of drought-stricken hunter-gatherers there, who are in urgent need of food and water.
"We have visited four villages and what we saw was heart-breaking; the villagers were cooking `aramo’ [green leaves normally used as a laxative] for food," Badir Mahammud Ahmed, the regional coordinator for humanitarian issues, told IRIN on 16 July.
He said a team of government officials and aid workers had visited the villages of Doonka Haarey, Bowdo Gaabo, Damalka and Gaawey, with an estimated population of "1,500-2000 families” (9,000-12,000 individuals).
The villages are populated by the Eyle community, a hunter-gatherer people looked down upon by most Somalis.
Ahmed said until their visit, the affected people had not seen a government official or aid agency representative for 18 years.
"I would call them Somalia's forgotten people," he said. "They are an unarmed minority and it seems they fell into a hole and no one sees them."
|The entire region is suffering from a combination of drought and high prices and needs help, but the Eyle community needs help more than anyone else at the moment|
Abdiqani Sheikh Mohamed, a local journalist who accompanied the team, told IRIN that the situation of the Eyle community was "appalling".
"I have seen hungry people but I have never seen anything quite like this." He said the women were cooking `aramo’ and the children were eating `hamur’ and `muryey’ (types of wild berry). "That was all the food they had, nothing else."
Nothing to hunt
He said the people depend on hunting for their livelihood, but there was nothing to hunt, as the game had either died, been over-hunted or migrated in search of pasture and water.
Ahmed said all the water points in the area, which is about 50km north of Jowhar, the regional capital, have dried up. "They have to walk 15km to the nearest well to get water."
Ahmed called on relief agencies to come to the rescue of these people.
"The entire region is suffering from a combination of drought and high prices and needs help," he said, "but the Eyle community needs help more than anyone else at the moment."
Mohamed, the journalist, agreed. "There are hungry people all over Somalia, but nothing can compare to what we saw yesterday [15 July] in those villages."
Ahmed said the priority was to get food and water to the affected population. "The health conditions were very bad and also need to be addressed," he said.
Aid workers estimate 2.6 million Somalis need assistance - a number that is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year if the humanitarian situation does not improve, according to the UN.