Somalia: a population exhausted

22-07-2011 Operational Update

Somalia's appalling humanitarian crisis has reached a new low point. People in the central and southern regions cannot cope, and the humanitarian response does not measure up to the immense needs. The ICRC is one of the few international organizations working in those areas.

The severe drought, with below average rainfall in most parts of southern and central Somalia since the last deyr rainy season (from September to November 2010), has hit a population already exhausted by years of armed conflict, previous dry spells and economic crises.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced within Somalia are searching for shelter and food. The majority live in the open or in makeshift camps. They represent a heavy burden for the host communities that share their scarce resources with them. Most of the displaced do not have anything left to sell and are therefore unable to buy food. As a result, malnutrition rates are usually even higher among displaced people than among the general population.

In addition, the absence of international humanitarian organizations, many of which have stopped their activities in southern Somalia since early 2009 because of security constraints and restrictions imposed by local authorities, has added to the hardship.

The ongoing armed conflict, which intensified further with a new offensive at the beginning of the year, mainly in Mogadishu and along the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders, prevents many of the displaced from returning to their home areas. Thousands are crossing the borders every week.

"The current situation is the result of a long-standing crisis that has pushed people to their limits," said Olivier Humbert-Droz, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation for Somalia. "Without any aid, it's bound to get even worse in the coming weeks."

Livestock are severely affected by the lack of pasture and water, especially in the southern and central regions. Many animals, especially cattle, have died. Those that survive are not able to reproduce and therefore have no milk. This has a strongly negative impact on the nutrition of children, for whom animal milk is one of the most important sources of protein. Moreover, the surviving animals are not in good condition and therefore fetch very low prices at market. Because pastoralists need grain and have nothing but livestock to trade, low prices for livestock combined with the world food crisis, which has pushed up prices for grain, constitute a double blow for them.

Pastoralists who still have some animals are moving towards the river areas in search of pasture and water; those who have none are moving to refugee camps across the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders or into towns where they join other displaced people seeking work.

Stepping up the fight against malnutrition

Alarming rates of malnutrition are being observed in ICRC-supported outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes in central and southern Somalia. High rates of moderate and severe malnutrition in children under five have been reported in the coastal areas of central Somalia, in the Jubas and in Gedo. Admissions into the outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes run by the Somali Red Crescent Society have doubled since March. In Bay region, 11 per cent of children under the age of five are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In Tieglow district, Bakool region, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children treated at the mother and child health-care centres, with the rate of severe acute malnutrition rising from 16 to over 30 per cent between March and April.

The gu harvest, set to take place in August, is expected to be below average, and concentrated in areas along the two rivers, the Shabelle and the Juba, where irrigation is possible. Unfortunately, there will most probably be no substantial harvest in the rain-fed areas.

As a first step in responding to the crisis, the Somali Red Crescent and the ICRC are expanding existing outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes in southern Somalia. Ten new feeding centres will be opened in Bakool, Gedo and the Afgoye corridor. Additional mobile teams made up of nurses and nutritional specialists will visit people in the areas worst affected. Moreover, a new feeding programme supplementing the regular therapeutic feeding is being launched for malnourished children under five and other vulnerable groups, such as pregnant and lactating women. Up to 36,000 people will benefit from these measures.

As soon as possible, the ICRC will complement the feeding programme with targeted food distributions together with the Somali Red Crescent.

"It has to be emphasized that the response of the ICRC, the Somali Red Crescent Society and the few other organizations still working in these regions will not be sufficient by itself to cover all the needs," said Mr Humbert-Droz. "To relieve the dire situation of the Somali people, concerted efforts involving the humanitarian community are required."

Since April, the ICRC has distributed food and emergency supplies to over 300,000 people throughout Somalia and has facilitated access to clean water for 400,000 people.

Making water and food more easily available

The ICRC has been maintaining its long-term support for 18 outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes operated by the Somali Red Crescent in Galgaduud, Mogadishu, Bay and Lower Juba, and for three mobile programmes in Middle Juba region. Almost 5,000 children are currently being treated for severe acute malnutrition.

Over the past three months, the ICRC has distributed two-month food rations to over 39,000 people affected by the ongoing conflict in Sool region and Burhoodle, and one-month rations to more than 4,000 people in Eyl district of Puntland. In addition, it has distributed essential household items to over 240,000 people newly displaced by the conflict or drought in central regions (Mudug, Galmudug) and southern regions (Bandir, Bay, Bakool, Middle and Lower Jubas).

From April to June, the ICRC distributed seed in anticipation of the gu planting season to 15,500 farmers and agro-pastoralists in southern and central Somalia. Some 6,000 of them were also supplied with other farm inputs, provided with ploughing services, and given the use of 134 irrigation pumps to help increase food production. Over 3,000 people are benefiting from 33 cash-for-work projects upgrading irrigation channels along the Juba river, while 42,000 people benefit from the protection provided by improved river embankments that will prevent flooding of farmland and the resulting loss of food production. In addition, 6,000 people earning a living through fishing have been given fishing equipment.

Between April and June, emergency water-trucking operations made clean water available to 350,000 people in central and southern Somalia. The ICRC also completed work on boreholes, water catchments and other water supply resources – 13 projects in all – providing water for some 50,000 Somali people.

Providing health care

From April to June, the ICRC provided surgical and other medical supplies for Keysaney and Medina hospitals, the two referral hospitals for war casualties in Mogadishu. Among the more than 1,200 wounded patients admitted, 40 per cent were women and children.

During the same period, the ICRC provided dressing materials and other supplies for the treatment of war-wounded patients for hospitals in the north of Somalia following clashes in Sool and violence between clans in Hargeisa and Gaalkacyo. The ICRC also provided support for medical facilities in the south of Somalia, including Kismaayo hospital, which treated the victims of the offensive launched earlier this year. More than two tonnes of dressing materials and other medical supplies were delivered to medical facilities on all sides of the front lines.

The ICRC has continued its support for 39 Somali Red Crescent health-care facilities in the southern and central parts of the country to ensure that the population has access to essential health care and to good-quality medicines. These facilities, which conducted more than 160,000 consultations between April and June, were also given equipment and their staff were provided with training.

Between April and June, around 16,000 children were vaccinated against polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus in these Red Crescent facilities.

Restoring family links

The ICRC helps family members separated by the conflict in Somalia stay in touch with one another and search for missing relatives. From April to June, through the network of Somali Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC collected almost 1,600 and distributed over 3,500 Red Cross messages, containing brief family news.

The names of more than 1,100 people looking for their relatives in Somalia and abroad were broadcast by the BBC Somali Service, and almost 11,000 names were published on its website. As a result, 120 people found their relatives. A total of 31 travel documents were issued to people with no identity documents to enable them to be resettled with family members outside Somalia, mainly in Canada and in Austria.

Promoting international humanitarian law

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's effort to promote compliance with international humanitarian law worldwide. The organization also spreads knowledge of international humanitarian law within civil society. Principles of international humanitarian law are illustrated through the Somali tradition of recognizing women, children, the wounded and sick, and certain others as being protected from attack (biri ma gedo).

For further information, please contact:
Yves van Loo, ICRC Somalia, tel: +254 272 3963 or +254 736 084 015
Anna Schaaf, ICRC Nairobi, tel: +254 20 2723 963/4 or +254 722 51 27 28
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 21 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17