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Somalia: sharp deterioration in humanitarian situation

29-05-2009 Operational Update

Dozens of people have been killed in the capital Mogadishu since the intensification of armed clashes at the beginning of the month. Hundreds have been wounded and thousands more have been forced to flee their homes.

" Some of the displaced had only recently returned to Mogadishu. They were hoping to be able to rebuild their lives in a more stable environment, " said Pascal Mauchle, who heads the ICRC delegation for Somalia. " Their hopes have now been shattered, and their painful ordeal continues. "

Many of those fleeing are women and children. They are joining hundreds of thousands of displaced people in camps on the outskirts of the city and other areas of the country, or even in already overpopulated refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

" The situation is a cause for major concern, " said Mr Mauchle. " The displaced usually leave their homes with very few belongings, and struggle to survive. In Somalia's makeshift camps they don't have suitable food and clean water. Insalubrious conditions put their already weakened health further at risk. "

There are also pockets of violence in other parts of the country. Armed clashes have driven people from their homes in several cities in central and southern Somalia. Host communities are not able to help them as they would like to do, in accordance with Somali tradition. The effects of years of armed conflict and a chronic shortage of rainfall as well as the ongoing economic crises have exhausted the resources of the resident population and have made it difficult for any family to feed its own children. Many of the displaced therefore remain without any protection, shelter, food or even utensils with which to prepare a meal.

" Life is very difficult, " said Fatima, a mother of four from Mogadishu. " My children ask me about their father every d ay. I don't know what to tell them, because I don't know what happened to him. I am struggling to find something to eat. We don’t have a place to sleep. All I want is a safe place to raise my children. "

The ICRC is responding to the situation in a number of ways.

 
Support for medical facilities   Mogadishu  

The ICRC is providing support for the capital's two surgical referral hospitals: Keysaney Hospital, in north Mogadishu, which is managed by the Somali Red Crescent Society, and the community-based Medina Hospital in the southern part of the city.

Since January, the two hospitals have treated more than 1,500 mostly civilian weapon-wounded patients, including women and children. The hospitals accept patients from all backgrounds, regardless of their clan or political or religious affiliation. The ICRC has been supporting both facilities for many years, and has delivered 50 tonnes of medical supplies to them since the beginning of 2009.

The ICRC has also supplied dressing kits, used to stabilize the wounded before transporting them to hospitals, to a new ambulance service.. Each dressing kit covers the needs of 50 patients.

Since January, 52,000 people have received medical care in six temporary clinics run by the Somali Red Crescent in camps for displaced people (IDPs) near Mogadishu. The clinics were set up last year. The ICRC pays the staff salaries and the running costs of the clinics and provides medical supplies and training.

 
Central and southern Somalia  

The Somali Red Crescent and the ICRC maintain, support and manage a network of 28 clinics in remote areas of central and southern Somalia.

Since January, 18,000 women have been referred to the clinics for ante- or post-natal consultations. A further 69,000 curative consultations have also taken place in the clinics, each of which is staffed with a midwife, a registered nurse and an auxiliary nurse. The midwife is in charge of pre- and post-natal care, the registered nurse treats common diseases such as diarrhoea or malaria, and the auxiliary nurse is in charge of dressing and the treating wounds. The clinics serve an estimated 300,000 people. The ICRC pays the staff salaries and the running costs, and provides medical supplies and training.

Seven hundred cases of cholera have been treated in Kismayo since January. Eight radio stations have pooled efforts with the ICRC to broadcast hygiene and cholera awareness programmes.

 
Emergency aid  

Since January, the ICRC has provided over 234,000 displaced people in the central and southern parts of the country with household essentials such as clothes, jerrycans, tarpaulins, blankets, mats and kitchen sets.

In May, 66,000 displaced and destitute people in Badhadhe, Hagar, Lower Juba and Sool, and 36,000 displaced people in Kismayo, were given a two-month supply of dry food rations.

In response to the recent intensification of fighting in Mogadishu, the ICRC is planning to distribute essential household items to people who fled to the outskirts of the city and to Middle or Lower Shabelle.

 
Improvement of water resources  

Communities with little or no income cannot maintain or renovate water facilities such as boreholes, wells and rainwater catchments. The lengthy armed conflict and the negati ve impact of global climate change and the chronic drought have combined to severely weaken the pastoralist communities which make up a large part of Somalia's population.

In order to tide people over until the beginning of the rainy season, the ICRC conducted a massive water supply operation. From March until May it delivered around 150 million litres of water by trucks to remote areas in the central part of the country for distribution to half a million people.

At the same time, the ICRC continued its efforts to improve water supply systems in rural and urban areas both for resident and displaced families. The aim is to upgrade existing water points to enhance livelihoods and to mitigate the impact of drought in the future.

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has completed nine major projects and is currently working on 12 others in seven areas in central and southern Somalia. The projects, which will benefit nearly two million people, include repair work on boreholes and wells and their distribution systems, desalination of large rainwater catchments in areas where geological conditions make drilling unfeasible, and the renovation of underground reservoirs filled by rainwater.

 
Other assistance activities  

Most water pumps in the country have been destroyed or looted since the upsurge of armed conflict in the 1990s. This means that farming is now primarily rain-fed except in parts of Middle and Lower Shabelle and Middle Juba. Erratic or low rainfall regularly leads to partial or complete crop failure. Many parts of the country have been suffering from a lack of rain for several farming seasons. The food and seed stocks of most farmers are empty. A dramatic reduction in cultivated acreage, poor harvests, and a lack of income with which to buy seeds have impoverished the entire farming c ommunity.

The ICRC is helping the destitute population by providing seed and food. Since January, 138,000 people in nine different parts of central and southern Somalia have been given sesame, cowpea and maize or sorghum seed. To help them bridge the gap until the next harvest, each family has also been given a one-month food ration consisting of sorghum, beans and oil.

Since January, the ICRC has distributed 17 water pumps to farming associations. With each pump, the farmers are able to irrigate at least 15 hectares of land, benefiting up to 500 people. With a pump, maize production can be from one and a half to two times higher than that of a rain-fed crop.

In preparation for the next rainy season and in order to avoid flooding, the ICRC helped communities living along the Shabelle River to reshape eight places in the riverbank and to reinforce dikes.

 
Restoring contact between separated family members  

Another important part of the ICRC's work in Somalia is restoring and maintaining contacts between family members separated by conflict. Working with the Somali Red Crescent, the ICRC has collected almost 3,500 Red Cross messages and distributed more than 5,800 so far this year. A total of 147 people have been reunited with their families and 1,690 names have been broadcast on an ICRC/BBC radio tracing programme.

 
The ICRC in Somalia  

The ICRC has been working in Somalia since 1977. It focuses on providing emergency aid to people directly affected by armed conflict, often in combination with natural disasters, and runs extensive first-aid, basic health-care and other medical programmes to treat the wounded and sick. It also carries out agricultural and water projects designed to improve the economic security of vulnerable communities over the medium term. It works closely with and supports the development of the Somali Red Crescent Society.

 
For further information, please contact:
  Pedram Yazdi, ICRC Somalia, tel: +254 20 272 3963 or +254 722 518 142
  Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Nairobi, tel: +254 20 272 3963 or + 254 722 512 728
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17
  For recent TV news footage or photos, please contact Pedram Yazdi