TIME Man on the Wire

Somalia: One Mother’s Unspeakable Loss

The US government estimates that some 30,000 children have died in southern Somalia in the last 90 days from the famine and drought crisis. Returning, nearly two decades after covering Somalia's last famine in the early '90s, photographer John Moore writes on the current tragedy affecting a stricken country.

Returning, nearly two decades after covering Somalia’s last famine in the early ’90s, photographer John Moore writes on the current tragedy affecting a stricken country.

“I walked into the ruins of the cathedral with a half dozen bodyguards and my fixer Bashir. He had called ahead to inform the militia controlling that area we would be coming. We entered the crumbling structure to see dozens of small rounded huts packed inside the building. People fleeing famine and drought in the countryside had moved in to create a small internally displaced persons (IDP) camp right in the sanctuary.
A crowd was gathered in front of one of the huts. As we approached, Bashir asked them what was happening. He was told a child had died only shortly before we arrived. I peered inside at two men wrapping the body of three-year-old Hamza Ali Faisal in a sheet. They rolled the boy into a mat and a camp member carried the bundle down the cathedral steps to a cemetery.

I followed the small group for about a block when my security detail motioned for me to stay back. Located in an especially dangerous neighborhood, the cemetery wasn’t within safe walking distance. I returned to the church to find the boy’s mother, Safia Adem, looking out from her hut with a lonely gaze.

It has been nearly two decades since I was in Somalia last for the famine in the early ’90s. While the level of tragedy remains tragically unchanged, the world outside Somalia is a different place and I myself am a different person. As a young photographer, I was stunned by the death around me. These years later my hair is no longer blond and I have young children myself. In her moment of unspeakable loss, Safia was generous to allow me to photograph. I remain touched in a way that perhaps only a parent can understand, and I am still stunned.”

—John Moore

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