Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Visit to Mogadishu (Somalia) to observe the relief efforts there

In late 2011, I visited the famine-affected areas of Mogadishu in Somalia. The visit was organised by IR Worldwide office.

Mogadishu is a vibrant city, with the hustle and bustle of any capital, however it is evident that the decades of war and neglect have left its mark on a city still in a state of stagnation. There is very little government control or any signs of development. It seems like Somalians are getting by on their own steam and doing what they can to create a sense of normalcy in their lives. Our first visit was to the IR Somalia head office for a briefing attended by about 20 personnel.
This included a detailed overview of works occurring in and around Mogadishu. There are approximately 110 IR staff in Mogadishu alone.

After the briefing we visited an old military factory, which was being used as a distribution centre to IDPs (Internally Displaced Person) for food relief and NFI (Non-food Items). This was a very extensive operation which used a docket system for families who were assessed as most in need.

This site included donated goods from all donor countries such as USA, UK and others. Basic supplies included cooking oil, flour, soap and rice, which would last a month on average. There were very many happy people in the compound. Those who we spoke to expressed satisfaction and joy that they would receive relief for at least the next month. Unfortunately, there were thousands of others who missed out, many waiting outside in the vain hope that they would get in. What was very impressive was that the staff were highly professional and efficiently co-ordinated with other staff and personnel. They were well organised and followed the system. They were very courteous and acted humanely towards the recipients.

The few staff, with whom we we spent some time were highly qualified and well trained and all except for a small percentage were from Somalia or Somalians from Kenya. They all spoke a high level of English. The conditions at the moment have stabilised in most of Mogadishu. While there are reports of instability in the rest of Somalia, particularly in Somali Land and in the north and also skirmishes with the Kenyan army in the south, this has not affected the current population of refugees nor created new flows of IDPs. Most of the IDPs have been in Mogadishu for several months now. It also appears that the height of the drought has passed and there has been some temporary relief with heavy rains falling in the months of October and November.

However, there is still a long way to go. Many recipients have nothing to fall back on. Long-term sustainability is a major concern, as there is no employment and many of the recipients are cattle herders or farmers and have no means to continue their livelihood or to return to their places of residence.
The next area that we visited was Corasan IDP camp. This was a winding maze of tents and huts, in a small pocket of Mogadishu. The place, while relatively clean, was set on a dusty area with no sealed streets or any form of sanitation for the IDPs.
However, most were staying in tents, which provided adequate shelter. Inside, people slept on mats on the hard floor. On average there were between 4-7 children per family.

The main problem in the camp was disease and sickness. There were in just the eight tents I visited in a matter of an hour, four people who were seriously ill with some sort of paralysis and fever. There were many reports of children who had some debilitating illness and no doctors or clinics available for any relief.
There was a common trend that the husbands were out of work with nothing to do. Some had died, gone to look for work or even some had lost their sanity, leaving the mother to tend to the children and the household chores.

Children looked quite malnourished and most were poorly clothed and most did not have shoes. Although, school services were being provided not all children attended school. There were Arabic and school facilities being provided but very few teachers and the ones who were available were unpaid volunteers. The IDPs are relatively stable and it appears that at least at this camp they are well provided for.

After documenting my trip to Mogadishu, I believe that organisations like IRW have to look at long term projects that will prevent the disastrous affects of drought in the future. There are thousands of IDPs in camps in Mogadishu and more are still coming on a regular basis, where there are problems are in health care in the camps. There are thousands of children and elderly who are suffering from treatable illnesses such as ear-infections, flus, eye and skin disorders. There are also thousands of people with disabilities including injuries from the conflict or from polio and other preventable diseases. IRW needs to invest in a clinic and supply qualified medical staff to attend to the camps and villages. I strongly recommend that IR Australia provides funding and facilitates a contingent of doctors from Australia to visit Mogadishu for a month program. We could work with the Australian Muslim Doctors Association and also the Australian Medical Association in sourcing doctors.

The situation in Somalia is far from over and due much to international efforts the immediate future looks positive for the many displaced people. Their prospects and hopes are not much beyond daily survival, however, with more support, IR can play a pivotal role in giving the good people of Somalia a sense of hope and motivation to build their future. The focus should no be on health, education and long term sustainability programs.

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