The images are soul-shattering, the statistics are haunting and the sense of desperation is distressing.
What seems like an unimaginable nightmare is reality for thousands of Somalis. While you read this, over four million people in Somalia are in desperate need of humanitarian aid due to what is considered one of East Africa’s worst droughts in over six decades. The drought has already claimed the lives of 29,000 children under the age of five, and the UN has warned that 750,000 people could lose their lives in the coming months if conditions don’t improve.
The severity of the situation in Somalia is beyond many people’s comprehension. Though the drought has hit several countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, helping Somalia is increasingly difficult due to the lack of a coherent government in the country after 20 years of rigorous conflict. The dangerous and hostile environment means that the aid agencies trying to reach those most in need are hindered in doing so. Somalia and her people are suffering.
However, financial aid to deal with the drought on a temporary basis is not enough; the “band-aid” solution doesn’t end the vicious circle of aid dependency and poverty in Somalia. Many charity organisations have realised that it’s time to dig deep into the roots and help Somalia build a more independent and sustainable future.
Sustainable financial aid
Oxfam, the leading charity in the United Kingdom dedicated to combating poverty, and its partners are now operating the single largest public health programme in Somalia.
Clean water is a necessity that is too often a scarcity in war and famine torn countries, and Somalia is no different. Many diseases, such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid, have their roots in dirty and contaminated water. With the immune system already weakened due to malnourishment, Somalis, especially young children, are at a higher risk of getting critically sick. The Oxfam programme is quick to find a solution: build new wells.
By digging and building new wells and boreholes for displaced Somalis in camps outside Mogadishu, Oxfam and its partners are helping create a sustainable answer to a persistent problem. The new wells and boreholes ensure that clean water is easily accessible for both present, and future, use. Families will not have to exhaust or endanger themselves by trekking for miles for clean water.
“Oxfam has reached more than 1.2 million people through local partners since the beginning of July with clean water, sanitation services, nutrition support and livelihood projects,” says Anna Ridout, press officer for Oxfam. “Somalia is the worst emergency in the world today and requires a massive and sustained response.”
Recognising the need to involve Somalis in the process for a self-sufficient solution, Oxfam grants ‘emergency cash’ to some of the most vulnerable families. According to Oxfam, women have used the cash to start up small businesses such as shops and tea stalls, thus ultimately providing a source of income to feed their families.
However, Oxfam is not the only charity working for a long-term response to the crisis in Somalia. “The primary focus of Islamic Relief has been on the distribution of family food packs and water trucking,” says Martin Cottingham, the public media manager for Islamic Relief UK. “We are providing food aid to 180,000 people per month and we have trucked water to 120,000 people. We are also scaling up our intervention to incorporate specialist infant nutrition and additional sanitation work, as part of a new partnership with UNICEF.”
The organisation has constructed wells and boreholes to provide clean water, and they have established health clinics where medical care is provided. Helping improve facilities in hospitals, and enabling the medical staff to treat basic illnesses, is vital to ensure the future of public health in Somalia.
“Our programme has included providing a new triage unit for the Banadir hospital and latrines for IDP camps to help ensure that children with severe diarrhoea are treated effectively and to stop the spread of disease within the camps,” says Martin Cottingham. “These projects are providing a lifeline which is keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive.”
Fixing the food system: smarter, sustainable farming
The famine and drought is hitting Somalia the hardest by killing off the livestock and livelihood for hundreds of thousands of Somalis.
“Insecurity is preventing some farmers from working their fields during the current planting season,” says Anna Ridout. “Somalis are already going through the most serious food crisis in decades, but the internationally-backed incursion is causing even more suffering for ordinary people.”
For a country that relies heavily on the primary sector, changes in the climate and the economy can have devastating effects on the people’s main source of income. The chronic drought and famine in Somalia has caused a shocking shortage of food, thus inevitably, a hike in food prices. With the average income per capita in Somalia being only $600, families are forced to go hungry.
In short: the food system is bust.
Understanding the need to change the system from within, Oxfam is appealing to support small-scale food producers in Somalia with investments through its “Grow Campaign”.
“We need more investment in small-scale food producers to be able to cope with a changing climate, as well as in generating sustainable livelihoods,” Oxfam declares. “Communities must have a say in the decisions that affect them, and better support must be put in place to protect vulnerable people. It’s no coincidence that the worst affected by this crisis are those who have been most neglected.”
The charity is also helping farmers by providing seeds to plant and tools to harvest with. Charity workers are constructing dams and reservoirs to store water so when the next drought comes, farmers are better prepared to deal with the harsh conditions.
Breaking the cycle of poverty with education
According to statistics from Islamic Relief, only 17 percent of children attend a primary school in Somalia. However, the figure is far lower in the rural areas of the country.
Poverty and illiteracy go hand in hand and unless an empowering, long-term solution is provided, the vicious cycle resulting in helplessness will continue. Lack of education often means people are more vulnerable to becoming the victims of corruption and are robbed of their most basic rights.
Working alongside the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD), Islamic Relief is creating a sustainable solution to a complex problem in Somalia. The charity is set to improve conditions at the Harfo Girls’ School, which is also an orphanage, and has built four dormitories for 160 girls, a large dining hall, a library and a water tank.
Islamic Relief, including various other organisations such as UNICEF and Save The Children, is actively constructing classrooms, providing equipment for schools and, perhaps most importantly, training teachers to provide an education for Somali children so they can finally break free from the chains of illiteracy.
A long road ahead
However, despite the desperate need for their presence, many aid agencies are being forced to abandon their projects at a crucial time in Somalia.
“Unfortunately the level of concern and commitment shown by the public has not been matched by governments, with the UN’s appeal fund for East Africa woefully underfunded,” says Martin Cottingham. “It has been difficult to raise support from these donors for a variety of reasons. Among the most important are the economic woes afflicting many of the largest international aid donors because of the global financial crisis.”
Anna Ridout states that despite the generosity shown by the general public, the response to the appeal is still underfunded.
“While life-saving water is still being provided in most areas, we have been forced to suspend some work, such as the digging of new wells,” she says. “Distributions of seeds, tools and cash to communities have been delayed, which are vital for a successful harvest in January.”
However, there is still hope, provided that everybody does their part.
“There has been some small improvement in famine conditions in some parts of the country,” she says. “This is the time to accelerate the humanitarian response, rather than jeopardise small gains.”
Mashaal Mir is a final year BA student studying journalism with politics at Kingston University London. She’s passionate about Muslim related issues and hopes to work in broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mamashaal or check out her published work at www.mashaalmir.com.