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Update No. 99/01 on ICRC activities in Somalia

11-03-1999 Operational Update No 99/01

Since April 1998, when a serious security incident forced the ICRC to suspend its expatriate presence in Somalia, the ICRC has maintained various lifesaving activities in the country, focusing primarily on medical assistance implemented nationwide through the Somali Red Crescent (SRCS) and ICRC Somali field officers. Material and financial support has been accorded to Keysaney Hospital in Mogadishu North and other clinics and hospitals have been provided with first aid supplies and medicines for the treatment of the war-wounded. The humanitarian situation throughout much of Somalia has since remained extremely precarious, while deteriorating quite markedly in certain regions in the south of the country. In the light of these developments and following careful analysis of the security implications, the ICRC took the decision to increase field activities as from December 1998, via a limited expatriate presence.

 General situation  

Armed conflicts in the south continue unabated and alarming levels of insecurity persist. Repeated clashes between different clans or factions have shaken the Juba, Bay and Bakol regions and have been characterised by attacks and counterattacks, the burning and looting of towns and villages, the destruction of food storage pits and the targeting of displaced communities in these parts. As a consequence, local populations have sought shelter and refuge in remote villages in the Bay and Bakol regions, but ha ve often been repeatedly forced to move on. Others have fled further afield to the neighbouring regions of Gedo, Hiran, Lower Shebele, Middle Juba and Mogadishu. Tension also remains high in Kismayo, which was the scene of fierce inter-clan fighting for control of the city in October 1998 and again in January 1999. As a result of the deteriorating security situation in Mogadishu, the capital is currently off limits to most humanitarian actors.

Poor agricultural and climatic conditions affecting much of the south   are major contributing factors to the growing crisis. After several consecutive poor harvests, serious flooding, which destroyed thousands of hectares of crops, followed by periods of either insufficient or non-existent rainfall, southern and central regions are now drought-stricken.

Socio-economic factors have also been instrumental in the steady deterioration. The transportation of essential food and supplies has been obstructed by clan boundaries, checkpoints, mines and other security problems. Both the main port in Mogadishu, which handled 50% of food imports and the port in Kismayo remain closed. Vulnerable groups have become increasingly marginalized, as rising food prices have forced basic goods and supplies out of the reach of the most needy and traditional local industry has been eroded away by the conflict situations, leaving thousands of destitute urban families to struggle for ways to support themselves.

 Other humanitarian organisations  

Of the humanitarian actors present in Somalia, specific mention must be made of a number of specialized UN agencies (UNDP, WFP, UNICEF) and the European Commission. However whilst the international community is active in the north-east and Somaliland, the constant insecurity and difficult working condi tions have driven the major humanitarian players out of the most-affected areas (such as Bay and Bakol). Most implementing agencies that have projects in these geographically limited areas are co-ordinated by the Somalia Aid Co-ordination Body (SACB).

In order to define and pursue closely co-ordinated programmes in Somalia within the Red Cross Movement, regular meetings have been held in Nairobi between the SRCS, the ICRC and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 ICRC field activities in Somalia : strategy  

After close monitoring and careful evaluation of the security context in Somalia, the ICRC has decided to increase its field activities in the south of the country, using a limited expatriate field presence. Activities will continue pursuing a two-pronged approach:

 An emergency response to the direct effects of conflicts combined with natural disasters.  

 A medium-term response with programmes aimed at maintaining local coping mechanisms and ensuring basic living conditions for specific target groups.  

The emergency response involves traditional ICRC activities for the victims, including medical assistance for the war-wounded, emergency repairs to bore holes in areas hit by drought, and non-food assistance and seed distributions for people affected by flooding and/or crop failure, as well as those recently displaced by armed clashes. Depending on the evolution of the situation, the ICRC will consider providing food assistance for the same target groups at a later stage.

The aim of the medium-term response is to extend operations to local communities (nomads, farmers and urban populations), whose livelihoods have been indirectly affected by the conflicts. The involvement and support of local communities in these projects, boosting existing coping mechanisms, are essential to enable communities to take charge of the programmes when appropriate. In the medium-term, the service or facility provided should be managed and sustained by the community itself. Such an approach should allow the ICRC to limit the presence of expatriate workers and avoid the undesirable attention of those who might loot humanitarian assistance.

 Recent ICRC field activities  

Between December 1998 and January 1999, a seed distribution programme (8 kg of maize, 2 kg of beans and 2 kg of sesame per family) was carried out to assist 15,400 small-scale farming families in Marere, Jilib, Jammama, Buale, Jalalaksi, Lower Shebele and Middle Shebele, who were affected by the flooding and who also experienced poor harvests. In addition, non-food items (blankets, tarpaulins and kangas) were provided for 1,450 families in Jilib and in Lower and Middle Shebele, whose houses were destroyed by the floods.

An ICRC team travelled to Lower Shebele and Middle Juba in mid-February 1999 to monitor the impact of the December/January seed distribution and to assess the needs of the health posts at Jilib and Jammama (both of which have received medical items for the war-wounded in the last few months). The results are encouraging. In Sablale (Lower Juba), after the floods receded, 2,000 hectares of farmland were planted with the maize seeds distributed. The food security situation in the district should be guaranteed and it is expected that similar results should be found in the other regions which have benefited from these seed distributions.

Following two assessments carried out by expatriate teams, the ICRC is also currently preparing a seed distribution programme for the next " Gu " (main rainy season), focusing on the farmers in rain fed areas affected by the two previous harvests failures. This will target an estimated 31,000 farming families in southern Somalia, who will receive 10 kg maize or sorghum and 2 kg of cow pea seeds per family. Some 15,500 small-scale farming families in the two river valleys (Juba and Shebele) and areas with access to adequate well and spring irrigation (Tieglo and Puntland) will also receive a vegetable kit, to provide them with a quick cash crop to supplement their low incomes. Half food rations will also be made available for 12,900 of the most vulnerable families in Hiran, Bakol, Bay, Juba and Gedo areas. This should also ensure that essential seeds distributed are not consumed.

Since November 1998, the town of Sako and neighbouring villages (Middle Juba), whose communities experienced several years of peaceful coexistence, have been the scene of fighting between two Rahanwein sub-clans. Houses and shops belonging to those belonging to the two clans have been burned and looted, and there have been large-scale population displacements. The situation remains extremely precarious for large numbers of people who are living in the open. In response, a distribution of non-food items (shelter, clothing, and cooking sets) is planned for 6,000 families from the two clans involved in the fighting.

An assessment mission by an ICRC team to northern Mudug and southern Nugal in February 1999 confirmed that the present drought situation, compounded by other economic, environmental and conflict-related problems, is severely affecting the pastoral communities in these parts. Many families awaiting the next rainfall expected in April find themselves in a critical situation. In view of these problems, the ICRC is planning an emergency response to ensure 4,400 pastoral families displaced by the present drought or still grazing their animals on their lands have access to a minimum supply of water for themselves and their livestock. Water will be trucked to selected target groups and maintenance and repair work carried out on several water points and water catchments. A similar programme will be carried out in the Galgudud region if the results of a forthcoming assessment deem it necessary.

 Ongoing ICRC/SRCS activities since April 1998  

The ICRC continued its support to the National Society for its ongoing traditional activities, such as health (first aid and surgical assistance to medical facilities treating the war-wounded and support to SRCS-run primary health care facilities), tracing, dissemination and emergency-preparedness programmes.

The ICRC Somalia delegation in Nairobi is currently staffed by seven expatriates and 16 locally hired staff . Links to the field are maintained through expatriate field trips, with activities implemented countrywide through the Somali Red Crescent (SRCS) and ICRC Somali field officers.