Factional fighting has plagued Somalia since the overthrow of its authoritarian government in 1991. Waves of drought, flood, and conflict have snared many of the country's estimated 8 million people in the years of instability that followed. But for hundreds of thousands of them, the situation took a turn for the worse in early 2007, when the country plunged back into all-out war on a scale not seen since the early 1990s. Coming on the heels of an existing humanitarian crisis in which 1.5 million people require assistance, the ongoing violence is only exacerbating the already dire humanitarian crisis in the country.
Oxfam is one of 40 International and National humanitarian agencies working in Somalia that are highlighting the dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in South Central Somalia and are calling on those with a responsibility to protect civilians to act now to save lives.
What Oxfam is Doing
Oxfam has been working in Somalia since the mid 1960s. A conflict that flared in early 2007 exacerbated the crisis stemming from drought and floods the year before. As the fighting continues, the humanitarian catastrophe currently unfolding continues to deteriorate. Through local organizations, Oxfam has been helping to improve water supplies and sanitation, provide food and basic household necessities, offer psycho-social support for survivors of gender based violence and offer cash relief and cash-for-work programs.
In Somalia, conflict, drought and floods have created a chronic humanitarian crisis for many of its estimated 8 million people. While Oxfam has been working in the country since the mid 1960s, the agency now offers assistance through a network of local organizations that understand both the needs of the people and the dynamics of working in a country plagued by instability.
Excessive rains in the fall of 2006 brought some of the worst flooding in years to parts of Somalia, where the Shabelle and Jubba rivers cut across the country from their sources in the Ethiopian highlands. By mid-December, flooding had forced more than 450,000 people from their homes along the rivers. The water swamped towns and villages, destroying houses, blanketing newly planted fields with mud, and clogging irrigation canals with debris. Then, that same month, the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, backed by the Ethiopian government, launched an offensive against the Islamic Courts Union in south and central Somalia. Close to 400,000 people fled the fighting in Mogadishu, the country's capital. Many of them left behind homes that were looted or destroyed.
After a relative lull, fighting between TFG/Ethiopian troops and anti-government forces has meant that violence has again increased and has triggered another mass exodus from the city. In the past few days alone, tens of thousands of people have again fled violence Mogadishu. They have fled to areas that were already inundated with thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs), to communities whose coping capacities are already at breaking point and to areas in which there is little or no access by humanitarian agencies. Access and security are deteriorating dramatically at a time when needs are increasing at an alarming rate.
Oxfam is working with Somali partner agencies providing funding and technical assistance to allow them to deliver aid to over 100,000 of IDPs in Mogadishu and the areas surrounding it. With the Center for Education and Development, or CED, about 30,000 people displaced by the fighting have received water. CED arranged to treat the water and truck it to people in need up to three times a day in round trips of 35 miles. Additionally, the organization is repairing 12 wells which could provide safe water to more than 100,000 people.
In the Hiran region in the southwest section of the country, another Oxfam partner, HARDO, helped close to 20,000 families with food rations, shelter, household utensils, and essential medical supplies shortly after the floods. It is now working with people in economic rehabilitation and emergency preparedness. Other Oxfam partners have been working to improve the opportunities for women to earn a living and lobbying on human rights.
In the Jowhar, Mahaday, Warshiekh and Balad districts Oxfam is working with its partner WOCCA to support 5,880 people fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu. People, particularly women and children, were threatened by malnutrition, living in inadequate shelters and exposed to human rights violations. Oxfam and WOCCA are distributing cash-for-work to vulnerable household groups. The cash-for-work programs are linked to promoting people's right to a secure livelihood and include things such as latrine construction, camp maintenance and psycho-social support to survivors of gender based violence.
Parts of Somalia are also recovering from the devastation left by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Through Horn Relief, one of its local partners, Oxfam has supported alternative livelihoods for destitute 1,180 households in the Sool and Sanaag regions of Northern Somalia improve their household incomes. In addition to supporting local framers, women's groups and fisher folk, Oxfam has also helped construct 9 wells and irrigation canals that can provide clean and safe drinking water to communities and their animals.
Horn Relief is also leading a cash relief project that offers grants and a short-term work program to 5,000 households, approximately 30,000 people. The projects focus on water infrastructure, rehabilitation and road clearing and provide employment opportunities in areas where the local economy has collapsed and there are few such opportunities.