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Somalia: civilians' plight still worsening

13-10-2009 Operational Update

Two decades of armed conflict in Somalia, with peaks of violence and natural disaster, have left millions of people in dire straits and totally dependent on outside help. Recurrent droughts and high prices have eroded food security and resulted in malnutrition in many areas.

  Humanitarian situation

A lack of water is exacerbating the cycle of malnutrition. Precipitation during the last rainy season was far below normal. The fact that there had already been three years of severe drought is making the situation all the more serious. Most of the traditional water storage systems are empty. Impoverished families pay a high price for just a few litres of water to meet their own daily needs and those of their livestock.

More than a million people have been displaced in central and southern Somalia, some of them several times. The poorest of the poor cannot flee to safer areas; they are stuck in Mogadishu with little means of coping.

The largest number of displaced families are in Lower and Middle Shabelle, where they are settling more and more frequently in camps instead of staying with relatives. " Because of drought and armed clashes, host communities in the central and southern regions have been overstretched for a long time and have lost the capacity to support relatives arriving from other regions, " said Andrea Heath, the ICRC economic security coordinator for Somalia. " Our strategy is to respond urgently to vulnerability and poverty and to protect the livelihood and dignity of displaced people, residents and nomads adversely affected by long years of conflict. "

Emergency aid

Since July the ICRC has provided 140,000 people who had to flee armed clashes, tension or unrest with such essential household items as shelter materials, kitchen sets, blankets and clothing. In addition, it gave 6,000 displaced families affected by the drought in the northern part of the country two-month rations of rice, beans and vegetable oil.


In Lower and Middle Shabelle, the ICRC installed 10 sluice gates on irrigation channels to improve irrigation and agricultural production on more than 4,000 hectares of farmland.

The ICRC also gave 20,800 destitute farming families living along rivers or with other permanent water resources six varieties of vegetable seed to supplement their diet. A total of 230,000 sandbags have been pre-positioned to protect villages and farmlands from flood damage in the event of a renewed El Niño. Two communities have received funding to build up embankments along the Juba river protecting their farmlands from flooding.

Biggest ICRC water-trucking operation worldwide

Since August, the ICRC water and habitat unit has focused its activities on upgrading existing water systems throughout the country. It has also launched a massive water-trucking programme for the population affected by the severe and long-lasting drought in eight regions (Bakool, Bari, Galgadud, Gedo, Lower Juba, Mudug, Nugaal and Sool). In an operation lasting four weeks, more than 70 million litres of water will be trucked from 80 different boreholes to 530 villages, providing drinkable water for 90,000 families.

Working together with local companies, ICRC engineers have finished building six water-distribution systems in five regions in the central and southern parts of the country. The systems are already fully operational and serving approximately 35,000 people.

Water projects, such as the construction of pump s, pipelines and reservoirs, and the drilling of boreholes, are currently under way in seven central and southern regions. Once completed, these projects will provide water for more than 115,000 people.

Support for medical facilities

Despite the volatile security situation, the ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent Society are providing support for medical facilities in urban and rural areas. The Somali Red Crescent manages 34 clinics in the central and southern parts of the country, and will soon open two health posts in camps for displaced people (IDPs) in north Mogadishu. In most remote areas the small Red Crescent facilities are the only ones that can meet people's medical needs.

The Somali Red Crescent manages the Keysaney referral hospital in Mogadishu, where 1,700 war-wounded patients have been treated so far this year, and the ICRC assists the community-based Medina hospital in the city, which has already treated more than 2,000 war-wounded patients this year. The ICRC provides these facilities with surgical and other medical supplies, salaries for staff, and maintenance and infrastructure support on a monthly basis, and with training for their medical and technical staff.

In response to ongoing armed clashes in the area of Kismayo, southern Somalia, the ICRC has sent urgently needed emergency supplies to various medical facilities in Kismayo, Marheere, Dobley, Afmadow and Jilib. The Somali Red Crescent sent two war surgeons and an anaesthetist to Kismayo to support the local hospital.

Cooperation with the Somali Red Crescent Society

In addition to working closely together with the Somali Red Crescent Society in the field, the ICRC continues to support the efforts of the Society to strengthen its management structure. It also provides the Society with technical support and expertise, mainly in the areas of tracing, health, dissemination and disaster management.

Restoring contact between separated family members

Another important part of the ICRC's work is restoring and maintaining contact between family members separated by conflict. Working with the Somali Red Crescent, the ICRC has collected almost 6,000 Red Cross messages, many from outside the country, and distributed more than 10,400 so far this year. A total of 302 individuals have been reunited with their families through the efforts of the ICRC tracing services.

Promoting international humanitarian law

Radio is a powerful tool that reaches a wide range of people in all walks of life. Because Somalia is traditionally an oral society and its people rely on radio more than on any other media, the Somali Red Crescent Society and the ICRC have been working with the main radio stations in the central and southern parts of the country to produce and broadcast programmes promoting international humanitarian law – a set of rules that aim to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting those not, or no longer, taking part in hostilities and by restricting the choice of methods or means of warfare. Respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to the armed conflict is a constant concern of the ICRC in Somalia, where hostilities cause a high number of civilian casualties and massive displacement.

For further information, please contact:

  Hugo van den Eertwegh, ICRC Somalia, tel: +254 20 272 3963 or +254 726 844 984
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17