14 MAY - After being sent to Ethiopia at the end of April to manage part of the Oxfam GB emergency programme in Gode, I was more than a little surprised to find it raining when I arrived. After over three years of continuous drought, the rain has finally begun again, and the relief here is perceptible. But behind the smiles, is more uncertainty. How long will the rains last? Is this the beginning of the recovery or just a hiatus before another period of prolonged drought? No-one is feeling confident about the future.
While it has been welcomed, the rain has also brought with it problems, not least the fact that many of the dirt roads are now impassable due to flooding or storm damage. Reaching the people in need is becoming a major issue. There is also a growing concern over the new threats posed by the rains. Mosquitoes are breeding in pools of standing water and bringing increased incidence of malaria, which is often fatal. While people may now have water to drink, it is not clean, and there are increased reports of severe diarrhoea, particularly in children, as well as other water-related diseases, in a population already weakened by hunger and unable to withstand additional health problems. The programme we are now implementing centres on Adadle Wareda, a district of Gode just south of Gode Town. It encompasses nutrition and food, clean water, and health and hygiene.
The nutrition programme will provide supplementary food for 2,000 malnourished children and 500 vulnerable adults, including the elderly and pregnant women. The supplementary feeding centre is under construction and completion is expected in five days time. Registration of children will then take place and distribution of food will begin. Four other supplementary feeding sites are planned in the near future, once access to more remote locations in Adadle become possible again. While this intervention will provide life-saving relief to these vulnerable people, for many it is already too late. The elders of Adadle are desperate for more assistance and told us last week - "please come as soon as you can, we buried more of our children yesterday. Our people are hungry, and when you are starving you can't even wait for the pot to boil". We are responding as fast as we can.
Oxfam's provision of clean water has had an immediate impact on the lives of people in and around Gode. Oxfam pumps have been installed at the water treatment plant to provide water from the river. An additional water treatment plant is being set up, and this will provide 200,000 litres of clean water per day. Oxfam is also assisting with the water supply at Gode Hospital, which will benefit not only the patients and staff there, but also the feeding centres set up by other agencies in the hospital compound. Health and hygiene work will complement this, and give people the information and means to practise good hygiene and safeguard their own health.
However, despite the efforts of development organisations and government agencies, there is still a great deal of need in Somali region. Now that the media have moved on, my fear is that the world will once again "forget" that people here are suffering. They still need food, water and health care if they are to survive the ongoing crisis. Oxfam GB is committed to providing such assistance now and for the forseeable future.