Women and girls in Somalia face a double crisis of endemic sexual violence and hunger caused by the country’s worst drought in four decades, a UK-based children’s rights advocacy group warned on Wednesday.
“As is so often the case, girls and women are bearing the brunt of this heartbreaking crisis,” Sadia Allin, the head of Plan International’s mission in Somalia, said.
A survey found that 34% of people sampled in the former British colony believed that security risks to women had increased as a result of the prolonged drought. A third said they knew of a girl or woman who had been exposed to gender-based violence in the past six months, which is likely to be an understatement.
The most commonly cited dangers were rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child and forced marriage, and genital mutilation. Girls and women have been forced to walk longer distances in search of water, sometimes for an hour each way, placing them at an increased risk of harassment.
“Unless humanitarian aid is urgently and immediately stepped up, we face a situation where thousands of children in Somalia will lose their lives needlessly and countless more will face other dangers and rights violations such as rape, violence and early marriage,” Allin said.
The United Nations says that 350,000 children in Somalia could die of preventable malnutrition this year as the Horn of Africa country faces a fourth consecutive season of failed rains. Just two failed rainy seasons led to a food crisis in 2011 that claimed 260,000 lives.