Hussein Hasam Ali struggled to his feet, his hand outstretched to
Sep. 19, 1992
BUR ACABA, Somalia (AP) _ Hussein Hasam Ali struggled to his feet, his hand outstretched to a stranger, but he was so weak from hunger he collapsed after a few feeble steps.
For three days, he had eaten nothing. He feared he would soon die of starvation, as the other 20 members of his family have.
''I am very hungry. I have only drunk water for three days. Can you help me?'' the 20-year-old man pleaded, peering through his one good eye. His arms and legs were like twigs.
Dozens of other starving Somalis sat or slept under the tamarind trees in this refugee-swollen village of 30,000 people just off the main paved road from Mogadishu, the capital, to Baidoa.
Many were too weak to walk. Some had not eaten for five days.
In this Horn of Africa nation, drought and civil war have killed more than 100,000 people and threaten 2 million more with starvation. Armed attacks and widespread looting have severely hobbled international efforts to feed Somalia's starving.
In Bur Acaba, there were sacks of sorghum and maize in the market, but for refugees like Ali - whose farm is a wasteland and whose camels were looted - there was no money to buy anything.
And there were no relief supplies being given out, even with a massive international humanitarian under way. Two food trucks from the International Committee of the Red Cross, destined for Bur Acaba, were hijacked by bandits on the road from Baidoa. One got through, but that was more than 10 days ago, and the refugees under tamarinds did not get any of the rice, beans, or oil.
''The situation is very tense - no food is coming at all,'' said Abdule Ibrahim Haidar, 52, the district commissioner for the Bur Acaba region, which includes 376 villages and has a population of almost 500,000.
''Those people who said they haven't for five days are very lucky. There are some who have not eaten for eight or 10 days. They go around looking for animal skins and try to cook them,'' he said.
In a small mud-baked building near the center of town, the bodies of six Somalis who lost the battle against famine were lying on the floor, little more than skin and bones.
Haidar said between 30 and 40 people were dying every day. When the Red Cross brought food, he said, the death toll dropped to 18 to 20 per day.
At the edge of town, overlooking the massive rock formation that gives Bur Acaba its name - ''Peace Rock'' - Ali and a group of refugees were wondering whether they, too, would soon be dead.
''There were 21 members of my family,'' Ali recalled, barely whispering. ''Twenty passed away ... all my brothers and sisters, and my father. I am the only one left.''
He clutched a cup of water. When it was finished, he crawled into the back seat of a wrecked orange-and-green taxi to escape the baking sun and scorching heat.
Later, he settled under one of the tamarind trees, where other refugees barely clinging to life told stories similar to his.
Kadija Mohammed Ali, 50, had traveled 75 miles from her home in Fulai in search of food after her three children had died of hunger. For four days, she had not had a morsel to eat, only water.
''Bring us food and clothing and drugs,'' she pleaded as she sat on the dusty ground, her toothpick legs unable to carry her further.''I can't walk - food, I only sit.''
Muslima Hussein Ali and her sister Fatimah Mohammed Hasan, both in their 50s, lost all their children and left their home in Helede, about 19 miles away, because there was no food.
''I fear I may die of hunger, or that my life might just be over,'' said Mrs. Hasan. ''We want a nice place to be taken, like Baidoa or Mogadishu, where we can be fed.''
But like thousands of refugees, the sisters had no money to take the buses that pass several times a day, bound for Baidoa, 38 miles to the west, or Mogadishu, 125 miles to the east.
Haidar, the commissioner, said aid could be flown into Bur Acaba because there is a landing strip nearby. The district also desperately needs seeds, so its people can try to grow food.
''If the seeds are not brought early, the people of this district will never escape from this problem,'' he said. ''These people are farmers, and this is their only source of income.''
Haidar said he discussed these proposals with Red Cross officials more than two weeks ago, but nothing has happened. Now his hopes are fading.
So the refugees of Bur Acaba sit under the tamarind trees, waiting for help, hoping not to die before it arrives.