20 April 2016
When there’s not enough food to go around, it’s often young girls who suffer the most - and it's not just the devastating effects of malnutrition. Girls are forced to drop out of school to help support their families during times of food shortages, and face early child marriage when families feel that they can’t support them. Meet four girls from Somaliland and Bangladesh whose lives are being torn apart by climate change and the impacts of El Niño.
Childhoods washed away in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, 10-year-old Aasia fishes every day to make sure her family has have enough to eat. Like millions of Bangladeshi children, she is going hungry as climate change makes sea levels rise. Salty water is flooding the canals and rivers of her village, killing crops. This means many families cannot grow food to feed themselves.
As the oldest sibling, Aasia shoulders the responsibility of putting food on the family's table. It's a big responsibility for a 10-year-old, and it's hard work. Up to three times a day, Aasia trawls through the river opposite her home dragging a piece of rope attached to a heavy net looped through bamboo poles.
Sometimes my arms get sore. When that happens I tie the rope around my waist and then I pull the net. When my waist starts to hurt I swap back to pulling with my arms.
Aasia takes her blind brother Ahmadullah fishing with her, so she can take care of him. She worries that he doesn't have enough to eat. "He is small so sometimes he wants to eat more. That’s why my mum doesn’t eat, she gives her share to him,” she said.
Aasia's mother, Hajjira, said she doesn't want her daughter to go out and fish. But the family's desperate situation leaves her little choice. "I feel bad because she's a little person and she has to pull the net," said Hajjira, "But if she doesn't do it then we would have to eat rice on its own."
The threat of child marriage
12-year-old Amina also struggles daily in the water for her family. She's scared that the lack of food and opportunity means that she will be forced to marry young.
I don't want to marry young. I want to study, grow big and then I want to marry. I haven't told my father that but I have told my sisters.
With floods and storms a constant threat to her family’s existence, her future is uncertain. Amina's flimsy house in Bangladesh has been destroyed four times by extreme weather. This has placed a huge financial strain upon her parents.
"My parents are worried," she said. "Sometimes they say if they could marry me or one of my sisters off it would be a relief for them."
Drought forces girls out of school in Somaliland
In Somaliland, drought made worse by El Niño is causing food and water shortages. It's leaving young girls like 12-year-old Daeka afraid. Daeka has lived with the effects of the drought for two years now. In that time her family have lost most of their livestock.
The drought hasn’t stopped me going to school, but some of my friends have had to stop going because there is no water and their livestock is dead. Instead of going to school, they have left here to look for places for their remaining livestock to eat and drink water. I miss my friends a lot.
Daeka told us that she's only drinking half a cup of water per day. But she is hopeful for an end to the drought. “It makes me feel so happy when it rains: all the buckets are full, the grass grows from the ground for the sheep to eat and the trees all turn green," she said.
"I worry about my siblings"
15-year-old Nimah lives in a village in Somaliland that has been badly affected by the drought. She has heard of children in another village dying from malnutrition.
"I worry about my siblings if we run out of food,” said Nimah, who has five brothers and sisters.
If the drought continues the rest of the livestock would be all dead, nothing will remain. When it all dies, we will have nothing left to eat or drink. The young children may die too, if there is nothing to eat.
The drought has claimed more than 20 of her family’s sheep and their farm did not yield any crops last year. "If it is possible to stop having to go to far places to fetch water we would really appreciate it. We get very tired when we have to do that," she said.
Many other girls are facing threats similar to those facing Aasia, Amina, Daeka and Nimah. That's why we're tackling hunger by giving out emergency food aid in countries affected by El Niño. In December 2015, we gave essential food and water to 400 vulnerable families. Since 2013, ActionAid in Somaliland has built 74 shallow wells and 72 water pumps, so families can water their crops.
In the long term, we're training women farmers across the world in resilient farming and fishing techniques, and supporting people with solutions like salt-resistant seeds and heat-resilient livestock, to help them adapt to changing weather.
With your help, we can do more to help end hunger and ensure that girls have a better future. Help us make a difference to girls in Somaliland and Bangladesh.