Ruqiyo Mohammed, 25, a mother of four in drought-stricken Somalia, has seen her two-year-old son hospitalised for a month with severe malnutrition, and has lost her farm and income – as well as her hope – to a seemingly endless lack of rain.

She and other parents caught up in the hunger crisis now hitting 21 million people in the Horn of Africa should not have to live in fear of their children starving, a UN humanitarian official said at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt on Monday.

The slow-grinding disaster is being driven by the longest, most severe drought in recent history – one expected to continue well into 2023 as rainy seasons keep failing.

“The people and communities who have been hardest-hit by the drought are the human face of the global climate crisis,” Heli Uusikyla, deputy director for operations and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told an event on the sidelines of the climate negotiations.

“They deserve not our sympathy but our solidarity, as they endure a crisis not of their making,” she added.

At COP27, the topic of “loss and damage” fuelled by global warming is top of the political agenda, as hard-hit countries demand new funding to help them recover from worsening blows.

“Loss and damage” refers to the physical and mental harm that happens to people and places when they are not prepared for climate-driven shocks, or are unable to adapt the way they live to protect themselves from longer-term shifts.

Gernot Laganda, director of climate and disaster risk reduction for the UN World Food Programme, said the emergency unfolding in the Horn of Africa was a clear example of this, because communities lacked the time and resources to bounce back before the next climate shock hit.

“Here there is no recovery from the cycles – it is impact after impact after impact,” he said, adding that aid agencies are struggling to respond to the relentless stream of shocks.

Samantha Power, head of the United States Agency for International Development, also said at COP27 that climate change is causing “more humanitarian disasters around the world each day, at a rate that governments and humanitarians cannot keep up with”.

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