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Somalia: civilians searching for safety

21-10-2010 Operational Update

In recent months, hundreds of civilians have been wounded in fighting and thousands more forced to flee their homes to seek refuge in overcrowded camps or with relatives. Meanwhile, living conditions in camps in the Afgoye corridor north-west of Mogadishu and elsewhere have further deteriorated.

In recent months, hundreds of civilians have been wounded in fighting and thousands more forced to flee their homes to seek refuge in overcrowded camps or with relatives. Meanwhile, living conditions in camps in the Afgoye corridor north-west of Mogadishu and elsewhere have further deteriorated.

Every civilian who can is trying to flee bullet-scarred Mogadishu in search of safety. Many end up in camps on the city's outskirts – in the Afgoye corridor, for example, or in Dayniile, north of the capital – where living conditions are extremely difficult. Owing to a lack of sanitation, medical care and other basic necessities, a large number of people are highly dependent on aid from relatives or humanitarian organizations. Some aid agencies have been expelled from the country, however, and security constraints still hamper relief operations in many areas.

Many people displaced from Mogadishu have no choice but to return to the city regularly, despite the lack of security, to engage in petty trade, load trucks, drive taxis or do whatever they can to bring in some income in order to survive. They venture into Mogadishu at great risk to their lives and eventually return to the outlying camps, which offer shelter and protection from the fighting.

The number of war-wounded patients in ICRC-supported hospitals in Mogadishu has sharply increased since 2009. The two referral hospitals for war casualties in the city – Keysaney and Medina – admitted 5,000 such patients from January through September. Among them were 1,900 women and children. During the same period last year, a total of 4,000 war-wounded patients, including 1,100 women and children, were admitted to the two hospitals. These figures represent an increase of 25 per cent in the total number of war casualties – and of 72 per cent in the number of war-wounded women and children – admitted to the hospitals.

"We are concerned about the devastating effects of the ongoing fighting on the civilian population. Attacks may be directed only against persons taking direct part in hostilities, and against military objectives," said Pascal Mauchle, head of the ICRC delegation for Somalia. "All warring parties must take all feasible precautions, particularly in the choice of means and methods of warfare, to spare the civilian population and civilian objects, including medical facilities."

The rains during the gu, or main rainy season (April-June), were generally above average in most parts of Somalia, providing some relief for many farming communities. However, intense rainfall also caused flooding in riverside areas, devastating villages and farmland.

Assisting victims of the fighting and of natural disaster

The ICRC is providing victims of war or natural disaster in remote areas of Somalia with essential household items and shelter materials.

Between April and September, household essentials were distributed to over 40,000 people, most of them internally displaced (IDPs). In a pilot project, the ICRC also helped 600 people by upgrading 100 hectares of farmland in the Middle Shabelle region. Depending on its needs, each farm was provided with agricultural inputs such as seed, fertilizer, pumps and agricultural tools, and with services such as the upgrading of irrigation channels or ploughing.

Some 120,000 people in the Sool, Mudug and Galgaduud regions and 55,200 internally displaced people on the outskirts of Mogadishu were given two-month food rations. More than 5,000 orphans, 19,500 needy people and the staff of the two ICRC-supported Mogadishu hospitals received one-month food rations for Ramadan.

Around 72,200 people in the Juba region who lost their harvests to flooding were given off-season staple seeds such as maize and sorghum to grow food for their own consumption, and cowpea and sesame seed to grow as a cash crop. Irrigation pumps distributed in the Hiraan, Lower and Middle Shabelle, Lower and Middle Jubbas, Gedo and Mudug regions, in the central and southern parts of the country, and in the Nogaal region in the north, benefited over 1,800 people. A total of 255,000 sandbags were distributed in riverside areas to protect farmland against flooding. In addition, some 132,000 people who had to leave their homes owing to flooding were given plastic sheeting for use as temporary shelter.

Staple seeds and two-month full food rations were distributed to 40,000 people to enable them to sustain themselves during the planting season and diversify their diet while growing cash crops.

The ICRC supports 14 outpatient therapeutic feeding centres operated by the Somali Red Crescent Society, where 4,000 malnourished children were treated between April and September. More than 80 per cent of the children were cured.

The ICRC distributed three-month food rations to 60,000 people and provided supplementary feeding for 4,800 children in Abudwak, in the conflict-stricken Galgaduud region.

Providing health care

The ICRC continues to provide surgical and other medical supplies for Keysaney and Medina hospitals, the capital's two referral hospitals for war casualties. Keysaney Hospital in north Mogadishu, which is managed by the Somali Red Crescent, and the community-based Medina Hospital in the southern part of the city run services 24 hours a day. Doctors and nurses often work through the night to deal with the influx of casualties. Both facilities treat patients regardless of their religion, ethnic origin or clan.

Between April and September, the ICRC also provided basic dressing materials and other medical supplies for treating up to 50 war-wounded patients for hospitals in the north of Somalia and clinics in Bakool.

The 28 Somali Red Crescent clinics and five first-aid posts in central and southern Somalia supported by the ICRC carried out more than 175,000 consultations and more than 16,000 vaccinations between April and September. The ICRC provides them with financial support, medicines and training. It provides similar support for six temporary Somali Red Crescent primary health-care clinics on the outskirts of Mogadishu, on the roads to Afgoye and Daynile, specifically catering for the health-related needs of the more than 400,000 displaced people living in the area.

Providing access to clean water

With the onset of the gu rains, central Somalia received substantial precipitation. This enabled the ICRC to discontinue its water-trucking operation at the end of April, after having helped more than 223,000 drought-affected people in the Galgaduud and Mudug regions, and more than 63,000 internally displaced people in the Belet Weyne and Dhuusamarreeb areas.

The ICRC completed 11 infrastructure projects providing water for some 41,000 people in the Middle and Lower Jubba regions through rainwater catchments. In addition, it upgraded boreholes in the Lower Jubba, Hiraan and Mudug regions.

Restoring family links

The ICRC helps family members separated by conflict in Somalia to stay in touch with one another and to search for missing relatives. Since April, through the network of Somali Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC has collected almost 4,000 and distributed over 6,000 Red Cross messages, containing brief family news.

The names of almost 3,000 people looking for their relatives in Somalia and abroad were broadcast by the BBC Somalia Service, and almost 9,000 names were published on its website. As a result, more than 150 people found their relatives between April and September. A total of 37 travel documents were issued to people with no identity documents to enable them to be resettled with family members outside Somalia, mainly in Canada, Austria and New Zealand.

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. In Somalia, principles of international humanitarian law can be usefully illustrated by referring to the Somali tradition of recognizing women, children, the wounded and sick, and certain others as being immune to attack (biri ma gedo).

For further information, please contact:
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17
Yves Van Loo, ICRC Somalia, tel: 254 20 2723 963 or + 254 736 084 015