VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Somalia drought: One year on
July 20, 2012 by Sophia Jones-Mwangi
|Two women fetch water at a well drilled by the IRC in Dagari village, central Somalia. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC|
One year ago today, the United Nations declared famine in six areas of Somalia, the result of consecutive seasons of poor rains, failed crops and lost livestock. By the time of the announcement last July, 3.7 million people needed emergency humanitarian assistance. Thousands of men, women and children lost their lives and many more their homes and sources of income.
The IRC responded quickly, scaling up programs and supporting the most vulnerable communities. We launched emergency response programs to address urgent water and sanitation needs. The IRC also initiated a lifesaving health care program in the capital, Mogadishu. Over the course of one year, our programs have supported 111,520 drought-affected men, women and children.
I recently spoke with Abdirahman Ali, the IRC’s Somalia livelihoods program manager, about the ongoing relief efforts in the country and the prospects for recovery.
Abdirahman Ali: The areas south of the country where famine was declared are now in what is called an emergency situation—no longer in famine, but one step away from famine. The United Nations states that 2.5 million people are still in crisis.
Abdirahman Ali: We are focusing most of our activities on supporting herding families—providing feed and access to IRC-sponsored locals who have been trained in basic veterinary skills. It’s important that the breeding herd is protected at all costs. Young animals are too young to breed and the old ones can’t reproduce.
We have also identified the most strategic boreholes in the Puntland and Mudug regions of central Somalia—the most popular water sources—with the aim of repairing and restoring them in anticipation for this long dry spell and the subsequent increase in demand for water by both humans and livestock. We have noticed over the years that when a dry spell continues, herders from neighboring Ethiopia look for water in Puntland, therefore increasing demand.
We continue to do our sanitation and health work as well as support the IRC Livelihoods project. We also continue to provide nutritional food vouchers to people displaced by the drought, particularly women, children and the elderly. Displaced women from southern Somalia are receiving grants and entrepreneurship training to help them start up small trading businesses.
Q: How have you responded to the health needs of the communities where we work?
Abdirahman Ali: The health needs are great. Last year we opened four health facilities in Mogadishu, including one clinic that had been closed for over 20 years. The IRC operates one health center by itself, two others in partnership with Somalia’s Ministry of Health, and a fourth in partnership with a local organization. These health centers serve the needs of the surrounding communities as well as the displaced.
We have also trained 80 volunteer community health workers who go out into the community and teach people about safe hygiene practices and breastfeeding—giving a child only breast milk and no additional food or water. They are also on the alert for telltale signs of common illnesses such as malaria, diarrhea and cholera.
We will soon be opening two health facilities in Hobyo district in central Somalia. People now trek up to 150 kilometers to the nearest health center, often waiting two days for transport and even walking part of the way. The journey is particularly dangerous for pregnant women due to deliver. In a recent assessment, we discovered that there were numerous complications during childbirth because women were delayed getting to the health center.
Q: What other initiatives have you planned?
Abdirahman Ali: We have recently set up a field office in Garowe in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. We have started water, sanitation and livelihoods projects in Garowe as well in the camps for displaced people. And we plan to start a skills training project for the youth in the area.
Traditionally, many young men get involved in piracy on the coast (and inland). Because of the crackdown on piracy, they are now idle—an equally serious threat, since they are recruited for clan or illegal political militias. We hope to start a project where they are trained in useful skills and eventually employed with companies in central Somalia that are owned and run by Somalis living in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. We would like to get started in the new year.
Women, Protection and Empowerment is another new initiative. The impact of drought and conflict on Somali women can be devastating: Women and girls are most vulnerable to violence, displacement and insecurity.
And we are in the process of recruiting a protection manager who will be based in Garowe. The manager will coordinate protection issues within IRC projects and support communities in developing local protection strategies. Learn More: Drought in Africa special report. >>
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