16 March 2017

Somalia: It's a Triple Tragedy for Sick and Starving Refugees

Photo: Mike Pflanz/IRIN
Even drought-resistant camels died in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia and Somalia (file photo).

It was a question that must have been playing out on the mind of most of the journalists in the room at Somalia's Mogadishu airport, after the country's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed them on why the world must come to the country's aid.

What was more urgent for the president? Trying to keep his people alive, or trying to keep the country together?

Mr Farmaajo, only 26 days in office, said he would first prioritise saving the lives of his people, who are threatened with famine owing to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and the next would be securing the country.

However, for Somalia, the two challenges are so intertwined that it could prove impossible to address one first. The situation is further complicated by a cholera outbreak in four regions of the country.

The United Nations is now calling for urgent aid the country to avert a catastrophe worse than the famine that claimed 260,000 in 2011.

Mr Guterres, who chose Somalia for his first field trip since he took office in January, said the situation in the country was both tragic and regrettable.

Massive support

"The combination of drought, conflict and disease outbreak calls for massive support," Mr Guterres told journalists. He said Somalia urgently needs at least $825 million between March and June to deal with the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

According to the UN, the number of people in need of food has increased to 6.2 million -- a half of the population -- up from six months ago. In the worst drought-affected areas, poor rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock, while communities are being forced to sell their assets, and beg for food and money to survive.

About 200,000 people have moved to makeshift camps of internally displaced people.

In Baidoa town, Bay region, a new settlement has formed in the past two weeks. About 700 people, some from as far as 90km away, have made their way to the town in search of food and security.

Udugow Mohamed Noor, 56, said she walked for six days with her elderly mother and six children.

"We came here because the food was not reaching us in the village," she said.

Aid workers say that the presence of Al-Shabaab in parts of the country makes it impossible for them to reach the people in need of food and health services.

Before the drought, Ms Noor had six head of cattle and a farm which gave her family adequate food. At the Liiban camp, she is relying on the generosity of the residents of Baidoa town, as the United Nations and non-governmental organisations are yet to begin food distribution in the camp. But some water is being trucked to the camp and a sanitation campaign is ongoing.

Ms Noor's story is replicated in all the makeshift shelters at the camp: Every family is waiting for the day food will reach them.

But at least they wait in a secure place, with a heavy presence of the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) soldiers. At the nearby Bay Regional Hospital, cholera and severe malnutrition are taking their toll on the patients.

The referral hospital received 73 cholera patients from Bani, Bakol, Gedo and Middle Jubba regions. Another 2,340 people were being treated as outpatients. Despite the gloom, hope is all over the faces of the aid workers, the Amisom soldiers and some of the citizens.

Yarrow Abdi Hassan, 28, who recently returned to Somalia from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where he lived for 27 years, is among hundreds of refugees who have opted to return home after the Kenya government announced it would close the camp that has been home to Somali refugees since 1991.

"I have gone to school in Kenya, but as a refugee. I could not get a well-paying job. My last job as a refugee assistant with an international NGO only paid me $120 a month," he said.

He now hopes that the $600 he will be given per month for six months by the UNHCR for himself, his wife and child will enable him to settle into his home country as he looks for a better paying job.

"We have a government in place and a new president. I have confidence in the new government and I know things will change for the better," he said.

The UN Secretary-General, too, is hopeful that Somalia is on a mend.

"This is also a moment of hope. A moment of hope because Somalia is turning the page. A new President was elected. A new Prime Minister was appointed. There is a strong commitment to enhance security and at the same time to enhance the capacity of the government to start to provide effective services to the population. Requiring, of course, the solidarity of the international community," he said.


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