After 6 months of famine, Somali men return to farm

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MOGADISHU, SOMALIA Six months after the U.N. declared Somalia’s capital a famine zone, the number of refugees in the capital is dwindling, as most of the men have gone home to try to revive devastated herds and withered crops.

The women - and the children - would like to join them, but many don’t have enough money. That means fewer hands on the farm and a smaller harvest.

At a sprawling Mogadishu refugee camp that holds 2,700 stick huts, one woman said she was grateful for a plastic sheet over her ramshackle hut that keeps her children dry.

For another woman, it’s a daily cup of porridge for everyone in her family. A third woman says there are fewer problems than there used to be.

But hardship and danger remain.

U.N. security personnel say there have been six homemade bombs found or detonated in Mogadishu recently - including a blast Jan. 19 at a police checkpoint near a refugee camp shortly after U.N. personnel and international journalists visited a nearby feeding site.

Two police officers and four refugees were killed in the blast, which did not appear to be aimed at the visiting delegation.

Somali police forces have been fighting each other at a key intersection, and Somali government soldiers in a highly contested Mogadishu neighborhood have abandoned their posts because they have not been paid.

But one promising sign is a lack of men in the refugee camps. Many have gone home to plant crops and try to resurrect herds devastated by a crippling drought.

The drought in the parts of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab militants - who allow few aid groups in - turned into famine. Seasonal rains have fallen in drought areas in recent weeks, raising hopes that the situation will improve.

“The situation is getting better now because our farms are growing again. We can go back and feed ourselves without depending on anybody,” said Halima Mohammed Abdulla, a mother of five who has been living in a Mogadishu refugee camp for five months.

Like many other women here, she said she would like to go home but doesn’t have enough money to pay for transportation.

Another woman, Halima Haji Mohammed Omar, said her husband was planting fewer crops because the family’s children were not around to help, a trend that could result in an overall smaller harvest.

After months without rainfall across the region, the U.N. on July 20 declared several parts of Somalia a famine zone. Exhausted, rail-thin women were stumbling into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia with dead babies and bleeding feet.

The journeys sometimes took weeks, and weaker family members - children and the elderly - were left behind on the way to die alone.

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