BAIDOA, Somalia — Visibly shocked by the suffering of malnourished Somalis and cholera victims during an emergency visit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged international support to alleviate Somalia’s worsening hunger crisis.
“Every single person we have seen is a personal story of tremendous suffering. There is no way to describe it,” Guterres said after seeing skeletal men, women and children in a cholera ward in Baidoa, 243 kilometers (151 miles) northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia’s prolonged drought has caused widespread hunger, and the shortage of clean water has resulted in cholera.
On his first field trip since becoming the U.N. chief, Guterres said Somalia’s famine crisis requires a massive response. He said 6 million people, or almost half of the country’s population, need assistance.
“People are dying. The world must act now to stop this,” he tweeted on his arrival in this Horn of Africa nation.
“We need to make as much noise as possible,” Guterres said. “Conflict, drought, climate change, disease, cholera. The combination is a nightmare.”
In Baidoa’s cholera wards, adults and children had sunken eyes and protruding ribs. Because of the cholera-induced diarrhea, medical workers sprayed the wards with chlorine to disinfect the areas.
Guterres also visited a camp with hundreds of families displaced by the drought and Somalia’s battle against the Islamic extremists of al-Shabab. He saw hungry families seeking shelter under flimsy plastic.
“I have nothing. This is not a shelter, we barely get any food here and we have no protection. It’s not safe, I am suffering,” said 34-year-old Deira Mohamed Nor, with her 10-month-old baby girl Dahiro Ishaak Hussein, who is sick with malaria. Nor said she recently lost one of her children to diarrhea.
Guterres said he was moved by the misery.
“It makes me feel extremely unhappy with the fact that in today’s world, with the … the richness that exists, that these things are still possible. It is unbelievable,” Guterres said. He wore personal protection armor and was surrounded by African Union peacekeepers and bodyguards to protect against possible suicide bombings and attacks by the extremists who plague Somalia.
Somalia is part of a massive $4 billion aid appeal launched last month for four nations suffering from conflict and hunger. The others are Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine already has been declared in two counties.
Somalia over the weekend announced its first death toll since declaring a national disaster last week, saying 110 people had died in a 48-hour period in a single region.
Meeting the U.N. chief, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said: “My first priority is to address this drought crisis, and my main priority is to make an appeal to the international community to help us.”
Somalia is one of the six Muslim-majority countries affected by the revised travel ban ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump. Mohamed took Guterres’ visit as an opportunity to speak out against it.
“Definitely we will prefer to see that this travel ban should be lifted and, of course, we have to communicate with the U.S. government because as everyone knows we have a large Somali community in the United States who I’m sure have contributed to the U.S. economy,” said Mohamed, in response to press questions. He himself has dual Somali-U.S. citizenship.
Mohamed added: “We have to address the root cause, which is the security situation here and how to defeat (Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels) al-Shabab here.”
Guterres said he was pleased to meet Mohamed, who was elected and inaugurated last month. “I am bringing a message of solidarity to the president. A message of support,” Guterres said. “Let’s hope he can start an inclusive government.”