The 2011 famine in Somalia killed more than a quarter of a million people and displaced hundreds of thousands within the country and elsewhere throughout the Horn and East Africa region. This was a double blow to the people of Somalia who were and still are being displaced by conflict.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Somalia has been responding to the displacement with a variety of programs ranging from healthcare to cash vouchers. The IRC in Kenya also runs a hospital in Hagadera, part of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in northern Kenya, treated hundreds of severely malnourished children at the height of the crisis. The IRC has been operating health and nutrition programs there since 2009 as well as Protection and Women’s Empowerment initiatives.
The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has, since 2009, been funding the IRC’s health services at Dadaab’s main hospital; five health posts; hospital and community level nutrition services as well as protection in both Hagadera and Kambioos refugee camps.
“The total target population is 140 369 refugees,” explains Sirat Amin IRC’s Nutrition Manager in Hagadera. “The program is making a huge positive difference in the lives of the refugees’ here.” he continues.
“It is important to acknowledge ECHO’s contribution to our nutrition program,” says Amin, “ with this fund the program was able to achieve a reduction in malnutrition from 17.1% in 2011 during the influx to 6.6% in 2013 in Hagadera and 17.2% in 2012 to 10.3% in 2013 in Kambioos. This has greatly reduced the mortality rate in children under five,”he continues.
In May 2014 the IRC carried out a major health drive called “Malezi Bora” (good nurturing) focused on providing vitamin A to children from six months to five years old, screening for malnutrition and de-worming. More than 4 000 children were screened for malnutrition and received vitamin A in Kambioos, Dadaab’s newest camp.
20 year old Ifrah Ahmed Ibrahim has lived in Hagadera for six years and has three children. She fled the conflict in her home in Bula Haji, Lower Juba, Somalia and came to Dadaab. “IRC staff attended me while I was pregnant at the antenatal clinic and performed routine check-ups. The midwives supported me during the delivery of my twins and afterwards. I have also received nutrition support at the health post when I was pregnant and when I was breast feeding the twins,” she recalls.
Like many Somali refugees in Dadaab, she is concerned about the return agreement that the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed last November that all Somalis in Kenya should eventually return to Somalia voluntarily when conditions allow in terms of safety and dignity. “Although they are saying it is voluntary, most of us fear that the government will push us back to Somalia when it is still not stable,” she says. “I hope to return home one day but when it is completely stable,” she continues.
It is understandable why Ifrah is fearful to return home right now. Nimo Mohamed Jibril, 27, fled her home in Janaale, Lower Shabelle in Somalia one and a half years ago with her seven children. She now lives under a tent in Ajuran camp, which is within the Jawle camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Garowe. “Today all my children are safe with me. Some of my uncles lost their lives protecting their farms,” she says. “Women were raped at gunpoint. I never thought I would reach this place safe and sound. “
Despite reaching safety, the camp, with an estimated population of 2 000, is not without its challenges. Overcrowding, not enough food, flimsy shelters made of plastic and inadequate sanitation. “Women in the camps face the most challenges,” explains Abdiaziz Bashir, IRC’s Livelihoods Coordinator in Garowe. “As the heads of their households, they are the sole breadwinners often working in unsafe conditions with adverse effects on their health. Security is central to their survival. Women and girls suffer from limited access to resources because of their sex and are often discriminated against,” he continues.
Nimo sometimes works as a domestic worker and washes clothes for various families in Garowe, “It is tedious work but worth it to endure the pain because I’m responsible for my kids,” she says.
The IRC provided ECHO funded food vouchers to 150 of the most vulnerable households – a total of about 1000 people – over a period of three months in 2013 in Somalia. Nimo was still breast-feeding when she was registered for the food vouchers. “I was very happy because my children were able to eat. The food vouchers were a savior from death for me and many others,” she recalls. The IRC has recently received further funding from ECHO to support the same families for the next three months.
The United Nations has already knelled the alarm bells; predicting the possibility of severe food insecurity in several regions across Somalia, particularly in southern Somalia as well as in Hiraan and Galgdud regions. This will result in the reduction of crops and livestock will also suffer in the ensuing months. In addition to this, conflict continues to uproot people from their homes and undermine the functioning of the otherwise vibrant Somali businesses. Farmers will not plant if they are not near their land and livestock herders will struggle to find water sources across frontlines. Humanitarian organisations are concerned that the looming food crisis could push and an already vulnerable community into further stress, similar to the 2011 crisis.
Sophia Jones, IRC’s Regional Media and Information Manager for the Horn and East Africa