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Somalia: unusual situation calls for special approach

12-03-2004 Operational Update

The ICRC's Somalia operation is not quite like any other. It has no offices, warehouses or vehicles within the country itself; for the past ten years the delegation has been based in Nairobi. But tens of thousands of people are helped up and down the country, nonetheless.


Boosting agricultural production through canal rehabilitation© ICRC/Roland Sidler 09/2003  

Thirteen years after the fall of the government of Siad Barre, Somalia remains the only state in the world without a functioning or recognized central government. Although there has been progress in the national reconciliation process, in the short term it is unlikely that this will have a tangible impact on the people of Somalia. Armed clashes – over politics, business, property or natural resources – claim high numbers of casualties.

As part of its emergency response in 2003, the ICRC :

  • provided essential household items to 17,450 families displaced by the violence
  • transported 60 first-aid kits to the various frontlines to treat 3,000 injured people
  • treated more than 2,400 wounded people in Mogadishu's two ICRC-supported hospitals alone
  • eased the return home of 3,300 displaced families by giving them tools, essential household items, and seeds


Over the past ten years, the ICRC has developed and fine-tuned its unique set-up tailored to the reality on the ground. Crucial to the entire operation is its team of 20 Somali field officers whose in-depth local knowledge enables them to carry out many different tasks and oversee all logistics and security matters.


Budget-wise Somalia is among the ICRC's top ten operations worldwide, with more than 300 projects being run throughout the country. The needs of the people are identified and assessed in terms of economic security, health, and water and habitat, and a solution is worked out to suit the community in question.


 Food and water  


The ICRC has a variety of projects that try to address the needs of communities:

  • fishing kits are distributed to riverside farmers from minority groups with the aim of diversifying their diet;

  • staple seed is given to 20,000 households before rainy seasons to ensure production in rain-fed areas;

  • another seed distribution programme enables an additional 20,000 families with permanent access to water to supplement their agricultural production with a variety of vegetables;

  • community projects provide residents with " cash for work " and ensure the renovation of village infrastructure;

  • repairs to water points (wells, boreholes) help su stain the livelihoods of farmers in areas away from the rivers.



Today in Somalia, the ICRC provides support for:

  • two referral surgical hospitals in Mogadishu: Keysaney in the north and Madina in the south remain the only public referral hospitals in central and southern Somalia. In January 2004, of a daily average of 50 inpatients at Keysaney, some 60 per cent were wounded as a result of clan fighting; at Madina the figure is said to be close to 90 per cent;

  • 18 health posts : these are jointly supported through branches of the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS). The ICRC covers running costs as well as salaries for core health and administrative staff;

  • three pre-hospital care facilities :   the quality and the delivery of first aid prior to hospitalization is extremely poor. No ambulance service exists for the public, making evacuation to hospital a hazardous experience, sometimes taking up to two or three days. The ICRC plans to establish care facilities in areas where there are frequent clashes and injured patients;

  • five oral rehydration centres :   these are run through the SRCS and meet seasonal needs. They focus on the treatment of mild diarrhoea and the referral of severe diarrhoea cases to existing cholera-treatment centres supported by the NGOs Médecins Sans Frontières and Action Contre la Faim .

 The Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS)  

With 19 branches (one in each region of Somalia) and coordination offices in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, the SRCS is often cited as the only Somali institution functioning at the national level. The SRCS is a key partner of the ICRC, especially in areas such as:

  •  Tracing: the ICRC supports a network of 23 SRCS tracing officers who handled some 16,280 Red Cross messages for separated family members in 2003. These activities are supported by an initiative run jointly with the British Broadcasting Corporation's Somali-language service: a 15-minute radio programme, on air six times a week, broadcasts thousands of requests from people anxious to restore contact with their relatives and friends.

  •  Health: the ICRC provides material support and training for first-aid volunteers of the SRCS to enable them to treat those in need, conduct training courses, and carry out disease-prevention campaigns.

  •  Dissemination: with the support of the ICRC, the SRCS also conducts awareness sessions for the general public on international humanitarian law (IHL) and the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.