One year on since Somalia's famine
One year ago, Dorey Ali Ahmed fled the famine and fighting in war-torn Somalia in an effort to find aid, as tens of thousands of people died.
DOLLOW - One year ago, Dorey Ali Ahmed fled the famine and fighting in war-torn Somalia in an effort to find aid, as tens of thousands of people died in the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Now she, and thousands of others like her, sheltering with her impoverished family beneath the sparse shade of a tree, are on the move once again.
"There was fighting, the drought is hard, and the food is little," the 40-year-old mother of four said softly, cradling her youngest, two-year-old Hadifa.
Last year she fled the famine-struck Bay region for the chaotic capital Mogadishu, before later returning home. This time, as hunger bites again, she trekked south for five days towards Ethiopia.
"We want to find somewhere for food, and that is safe," she added, sitting beside a jumble of her scant belongings - a cooking pot, a plastic jerry can, and thin wooden boards inscribed with verses of the Koran used for teaching.
In a tin shed, the most malnourished children are weighed and measured and given an ultra-high calorie peanut paste. More than 20 sit sucking the sweet sauce, the fresh arrivals of just one morning.
Massive global aid efforts last year focused on the immediate needs of the starving and sick and, as the seasons come a full cycle, with poor rains and late harvests exacerbated by brutal conflict, grim conditions grow worse.
While famine was declared over in February, thousands have now fled to the Dollow region of southern Somalia, close to Ethiopia's border, a rare pocket of relative stability.
However, many fear battles will intensify in coming months as African Union, Ethiopian and other pro-government troops push towards the last key bastion of the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents, the southern port city of Kismayo.
Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, warns that conditions could worsen in the months ahead in a country that already has some of the worst rates of mortality and malnutrition in the world.
"Somalia still faces a crisis, and there are still people moving to Ethiopia from hunger or fighting," Bowden told reporters on a visit to Dollow, to mark the one-year anniversary since famine conditions were declared.
"While we have addressed some of the needs ... it is not enough," he said. Some 2.5 million people need urgent support and a further 1.3 million needed aid "or risk slipping back into crisis."
Bowed down by repeated droughts and riven by over two decades of conflict, Somalia is torn between rival clans, Islamist insurgents and a corruption-riddled Western-backed government, propped up by a 17,000-strong African Union force.
The UN and aid agencies are, once again, drumming up funds to cope with the swelling crisis, with donors so far providing only half of the cash required by the UN, but with a $576 million (€469 million) shortfall.
Agencies say a key problem is that most aid for Somalia is emergency relief to tackle the massive immediate needs, which does not strengthen people's ability to cope in the longer term with the recurrent challenges they face.
"It is legitimate to ask why, one year on from one of the largest humanitarian responses ever, we are again facing a crisis in Somalia," Oxfam's Richard Middleton wrote in a report this week, adding to the warnings of hunger.
"Poor rains are the immediate answer ... but other countries are better able to deal with similar problems; the real causes of Somalia's recurring crises are caused by people."
More than one quarter of Somalia's entire population is either internally displaced or has fled the country.
Massive relief efforts continue. Here in Dollow, snaking lines of women holding strangely silent babies, their colourful dresses flapping in the sandy wind, queue for grain, oil and sugar from the World Food Programme, just some of the 25,000 displaced people in this one small town alone.
Bruno Geddo, UN refugee agency chief for Somalia, said that the number of Somali refugees in the region had last week gone over the one million mark, a grim threshold exceeded only by Afghanistan and Iraq.
Like those in Dollow, living in a scrappy camp of basic shelters made from rag, plastic sheeting and sticks, some 1.4 million people have also fled their homes inside Somalia.
But the situation is not all bleak, as some flee, others hope to return. "I am waiting to check the security situation, and then I will return home to Mogadishu," said Mohamed Abdirahman Hersi, who has gone against the
flow of many refugees by returning from Ethiopia, where he has been for the past year.
Fresh tomatoes lie on the floor of his hut, grown alongside the river at Dollow, as farmers slowly reclaim fields from thick bush that have choked agricultural land in the years of war.
Hersi fled Mogadishu last year, when the city was still mostly under the grip of Islamist fighters. Now the city is more secure, although the end of the transitional government's mandate, which looms next month, has raised concerns for the future.
"If the fighting is calm, if I can make enough for my family, then of course I want to go home," he said.