Thousands of people, including celebrities, have taken to social media to urge Turkish Airlines to fill a plane with aid for hunger-stricken Somalia. Half of the population in the East African nation – 6.2 million people – is on the brink of starvation, due to a drought and instability.
The drought has already claimed the lives of 110 people who died from hunger in March.
People are using the hashtag #TurkishAirlinesHelpSomalia to shed light on the issue. The campaign was started by French Snapchat star Jerome Jarre, after an aid worker in Somalia asked for his help.
"So maybe I am going to sound crazy now, but what if we could find an airplane?"Jarre said in a video posted on social media. He then called on the international community to come together to find a solution to the ongoing crisis that is impacting at least 16 million people in East Africa alone.
Actor Ben Stiller also released a video explaining the importance of the hashtag. "I know there's so much going on in the world so it's kind of hard to focus on stuff that's going on outside of our own experience," Stiller said.
The hashtag attracted the attention of thousands of people. Hours after Jarre posted his video, Kerem Kınık, president of the Turkish section of the humanitarian organisation Red Crescent, said the charity was preparing three ships and three cargo planes to send to famine-stricken Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan with Turkish Airlines.
Turkish Airlines is the only major international carrier that flies to Somalia. The company resumed flights to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in 2012, becoming the first major commercial airline to land in the East African nation in more than 20 years.
Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in severe water shortages, a drop in food production, livestock deaths and rising costs of food that is pushing Somalia towards a famine just six years after some 260,000 people starved to death in the East African nation.
Persisting insecurity and travel restrictions – imposed throughout Mogadishu due to possible attacks by the al-Shabaab terror group – have resulted in the escalation of food prices and a drop in supplies, meaning that people do not have access to basic goods to cope with the ongoing crisis.
Lack of food is forcing people to relocate to other areas of the country or even to other countries, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, also affected by the drought.
Looming famine in East Africa
The Twitter campaign started days after the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in the UK launched an East Africa Crisis Appeal as at least 16 million people are facing hunger in the region. Violence, instability and a drought exacerbated by climate change are pushing people in South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia toward starvation and death.
"Hunger on a massive scale is looming across East Africa. More than 800,000 children under five are severely malnourished. Without urgent treatment, they are at risk of starving to death," DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said.
South Sudan was the first country to declare a famine since 2011. The famine has been linked to a prolonged civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions since 2013. At least 100,000 people are facing starvation in Unity State – in the upper Nile region – and millions across the country are plagued by food insecurity.
More than 13 million people are currently in need of food assistance in Ethiopia – one of the countries worst hit by the drought – amid fears the number will increase.