© Reuters. Bashir Nur Salat poses for a photograph with his classmates at the Kabasa Primary School in Dollow, Gedo Region, Somalia May 25, 2022. Picture taken May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
By Katharine Houreld
DOLLOW, Somalia (Reuters) – Each morning in this Somali border town, 11-year-old Bashir Nur Salat plots his day’s mission behind a crooked wire fence. Armed with only a friend’s yellow school shirt, a borrowed book and toothy grin, he eyes his prize through the mesh: lunch.
Bashir lives where three crises converge – global warming, spiralling food prices and war. He, like millions of others in Somalia, are in the crosshairs of what some aid workers are calling the “The Three Cs”: climate change, costs and conflict.
The worst drought in four decades in war-torn Somalia forced his family to leave their farm three months ago and to move about 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) north to the town of Dollow, on the border with Ethiopia.
Now, he leads a pack of younger children who gather when the Kabasa Primary School serves its students food. Through the school’s wire fence, the children stare at students inside gulping warm porridge or plates of beans and corn served as part of a U.N.-supported program, one of the few regular sources of food in the town.
Many of the gang were among the latest influx of people into Dollow, too late to register for schooling. One by one, they slink through the broken gate and dart across the dusty schoolyard to grab a meal when the teachers aren’t looking.
“When I don’t get food, I’m so hungry: I lie down and I can’t sleep,” Bashir said quietly. He had eaten no dinner the night before nor breakfast that morning. His eight brothers and sisters at home were all hungry, he said.
The drought, which began last year, is predicted to worsen, exacerbated by climate change, many scientists and humanitarian organizations say. A third of livestock is already dead from thirst or hunger. Crops and fruit trees have withered.
Somalia, riven by a long-running Islamist insurgency, needs to import more food but people can’t afford to buy it. Foreign aid is dwindling and food prices spiking because of war in Ukraine, the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter.
At least 448 children have died since January while being treated for acute malnutrition, the United Nations said. The figures are likely a fraction of the true deaths since many will have been unable to reach help.
The United Nations warned this month that more than a third of Somalia’s 16 million people need food aid to survive. Some areas could face famine this month. Aid in some places will run out in June.
NO TIME TO RECOVER
Bashir’s family had never before left their home in south-central Somalia, even when famine in 2011 claimed more than a quarter of a million lives, most of them children. Aid workers say deaths may approach those levels again in this drought.
Bashir’s family did not move then. Some livestock survived, so they stayed in their farm near Ceel Bon village.
Not this time. The drought took all of their 12 cows and 21 goats – a small fortune in a country where wealth is counted in animals. The family once enjoyed three meals a day: creamy milk from the family cows now reduced to scattered bones; and beans and sorghum from fields now parched and cracked.
“I’ve never seen a drought like this before,” said Bashir’s 30-year-old mother. She and her nine children now sleep on two mattresses in Dollow.
On a good day, Bashir’s father may make $2 selling charcoal in a nearby town, but since May 2 he has managed to send only $10 because of lack of work. The family has not received any food aid, she said.
Such desperation is set to become more common in Somalia, and beyond, as rising temperatures fuel more natural disasters, many scientists say. In the last 50 years, extreme weather events have increased five-fold worldwide, according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The Horn of Africa, including Somalia, is at its driest on record. This year’s March-to-April rains – the first of two annual rainy seasons – have been the smallest in 70 years, and the second rains from October to December are also predicted to be unusually dry, according to a warning last month from a group of 14 meteorological and humanitarian associations, including the WMO.
“We’ve never seen a four-season drought before, and now we’re likely to see a fifth” in October, said climatologist Chris Funk from the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“This drought has been made much more likely due to climate change,” Funk said.
The El-Nino-La Nina weather cycle halfway across the world in the Pacific is partly influencing the warm, dry air over Somalia, as is the Indian Ocean Dipole climate pattern. When the Dipole is positive, it is warmer in the west of the Indian Ocean and more rain falls in East Africa. Now, the Dipole is forecast by the WMO to go negative until the end of the year, causing dryness over the Horn.
But those alone don’t explain the steep decline in springtime rains over the last 20 years, said Funk.
Ocean warming may also play a part. Climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker of the WMO Regional Office for Africa said the Indian Ocean is among the fastest-warming water bodies in the world.
With oceans absorbing much of the increasing atmospheric heat, scientists believe warming Indian Ocean waters may be evaporating and raining down more rapidly over the ocean before reaching the Horn of Africa, leaving dry air to sweep across the land.
Another factor: air temperatures in Somalia have increased an average 1.7 degrees Celsius from the preindustrial average – faster than the global average of 1.2 degrees, said Babiker. Warmer air speeds up evaporation from soil and plants.
The Horn of Africa has seen other climate-linked disasters in recent years – damaging floods, a record number of cyclones and vast locust swarms – leaving the region staggering from one crisis to the next, he said.
“There’s no time for recovery,” Babiker said.
The children’s ward at Dollow’s hospital was full of listless patients, as were the maternity and outpatient wards.
Every bed was occupied when Reuters visited in May, with age-height-weight ratios sometimes veering into the red. Weakened by severe malnutrition, some children had serious infections, including measles.
At the school where Bashir hunts for food, 10-year-old Suleko Mohammed says she lost three siblings to measles in six weeks – two brothers, aged 2 and 3, and her older sister who used to help her with homework.
They now lie under piles of rubble and thorn branches in a graveyard next to the playground. As she spoke between classes, mourners were digging another small grave.
Down the road, market stalls displayed watermelons, mangoes, beans, and bags of flour and wheat – too costly for many.
Food prices have jumped by up to 160 percent in parts of Somalia, due to the drought and global supply disruptions from the conflict in Ukraine. Even in good times, Somalia imports over half its food.
The government has become alarmed by what it says is the slow international aid response, with its special drought envoy Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame saying countries need “to pay attention to this drought before it becomes a famine.”
“All human lives are equal,” he told Reuters. “The international community, particularly the Western nations, are paying more attention to Ukraine than the other crises.”
To date, Somalia has received just 18% of the $1.46 billion it needs in humanitarian aid this year, according to U.N. figures – well below the level of response last year. Ukraine, by contrast, has received 71% of its requested $2.25 billion for six months. Senior U.N. officials have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the shortfall of aid in the Horn of Africa to tackle the worsening drought.
Dollow is better served by aid agencies than most Somali towns and is among the safest places from the al Qaeda-linked insurgency, one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
More than 520 aid workers have been kidnapped, injured or killed over the last 15 years – the majority of them Somali. In Dollow, Ethiopian soldiers patrol the streets and keep order.
The Kabasa Primary School was established to cope with the influx of families ravaged by the 2011 famine. Admissions swelled again during the 2016-17 drought, when early humanitarian intervention kept the death rate low.
About one fifth of students typically leave school during hard times and never return, said Rania Degesh, deputy director of East and southern Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“When you uproot children, you expose them to incredible risks: exploitation, gender-based violence, early marriages, recruitment, neglect,” Degesh said.
The meal program entices them to stay in school. Schools in Somalia get 41 U.S. cents per child for two meals a day, said the U.N.’s World Food Programme.
But dwindling funds have already forced cutbacks to the program supporting 110,000 Somali children. Schools have just started a two-month break; there is no funding for when classes resume in August.
Teachers said Bashir and his gang were among at least 50 unenrolled children who appeared daily hoping for meals. Sometimes, teachers pushed them back. Sometimes, they offered leftovers. Sometimes they turned a blind eye.
“If they eat the food, then there is not enough for the students,” said Kasaba’s principal, Abdikarim Dahir Ga’al, as he watched Bashir’s gang slip into the schoolyard.
Ga’al pretended not to notice. It was the last day of term.
“I am a teacher,” he said. “But I am also a parent.”
Outside, Bashir scrambled among the last students to receive their meals, emerging triumphantly from the scrum with a metal plate of bean and corn mash.
His grin was wide and his head held high. At last, he would eat.
U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.
By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.
The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.
The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.
Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.
British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.
The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.
U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.
This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.
Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.
Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.
The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.
During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.
Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.
Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall
© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko
By Simon Lewis
KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.
More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.
Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.
Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.
“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”
Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.
A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.
“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.
“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.
At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.
“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.
“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.
BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK
Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.
Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.
Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.
Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.
“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.
Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.
Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.
The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.
During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.
Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.
The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
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