Hawa's Haven

Article excerpt

Byline: Eliza Griswold

On the battered veranda of Dr. Hawa Abdi's family farm outside Mogadishu, she and her nurses lined up what look like dusty bundles. They were, upon closer inspection, newborn babies failing to thrive. The veranda, roofless and open to the bitter blue sky where the seasonal gu rains sputter, serves as a makeshift neonatal ward. To be gentle, Abdi calls the veranda "intensive care."

It was a death camp, really. None of the babies were likely to survive. First cows die, then babies--this is the grim pattern that presages the cycle of starvation Abdi has watched on this plot of barren earth.

This current famine, Abdi will tell you, is neither a surprise nor an accident. We watch now in horror and disbelief, but all signs, from climate change to war, were well predicted.

When I visited her camp in 2007 and 2008, she already feared the worst. For the past several years, she has watched the famine's specter lurk at the corners of the mouths of the 90,000 people who live on her farm. She has watched food prices skyrocket, aid groups pull out, and drinking water--sold house to house from the back of a donkey--dwindle. A 50-kilo bag of rice now costs $50.

The drought, of course, has human causes. First, the rise of the militant Hizbul Islam (which was later taken over by the group called Al-Shabab, or the Youth), which attacked the camp in May 2010. (The Daily Beast broke the story.) Demanding "rent" money, its members try to control scant food supplies for starving people. …