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March 25, 2017

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Famine looming in Somalia as people flee

BAIDOA, Somalia -- Mariam Ibrahim, her seven children and two neighboring families were the last to leave their village in southwestern Somalia.

They loaded their combined belongings — blankets, cooking pots, sleeping mats, jerry cans, clothes — onto a hired donkey cart and walked beside it for 20 kilometers to Baidoa, the closest city.

"There is nobody left now," said the 28-year-old.

She joined thousands of others who are arriving in Baidoa each day, staggering from the parched countryside into the garrison city, cloaked in rags and dust.

Clusters of stick and cloth domes are appearing across the outskirts of Somalia's regional capital.

Somali and Ethiopian soldiers — part of an African Union force — secure the town against the al-Qaida-aligned Shabaab militants whose control begins just 15 kilometers away.

Successive seasons of poor rains and failed harvests have left farming families like Ibrahim's destitute and on the brink of famine.

The United Nations is warning of an unprecedented global crisis with famine already gripping parts of South Sudan and looming over Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia, threatening the lives of 20 million people.

For Somalis, the memory of the 2011 famine which left a quarter of a million people dead is still fresh.

But Ibrahim said what is happening now feels worse.

First the food ran out, then

the wells emptied.

And the little water that remains is brackish or diseased. So when her village of Aliyow Mumin suffered an outbreak of cholera in late January, Ibrahim decided to leave.

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