Since 1991, Somalia has had no central government and no central administration. Despite a number of efforts to centralise administration on a national level, little progress has been made on this front. In Mogadishu, major political rivalries have prevented the setting up of a central administration and an integrated police force. The collapse of the Benadir administration and the disbanding of the police force signify a severe setback for the local population.
The absence of any central government, the devastation of the civil war and ongoing fighting, and adverse weather conditions have had dire consequences on the daily life of the civilian population. Great tracts of land have become inaccessible and people are trapped in certain areas because roads and tracks are sewn with landmines.
Throughout 1999, the best part of the population remained totally dependent on international aid to meet its medical, food, non-food, water and sanitation needs. In all of these domains, humanitarian organisations have practically replaced central administration.
The hostage crisis in April 1998, which affected the whole Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, prompted an in-depth reflection amongst humanitarian players on how to operate effectively in such an unpredictable environment. The incident showed that the security environment had deteriorated to such a point that ICRC staff could no longer be afforded minimum protection, especially as expatriates are the prime target. The decision was therefore taken to temporarily suspend the ICRC's expatriate presence in Somalia, while maintaining lifesaving activities, particularly support to medical facilities and to the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS).
The ICRC delegation for Somalia is located in Nairobi. Links with the field are maintained through expatriate field trips, with activities implemented countrywide through the SRCS and ICRC Somali field officers. There is an ICRC/SRCS hospital in Mogadishu.
Following the almost complete failure of the last two harvests (1998-99) in several regions, the rainfed farmers, whose seeds come from the previous harvest which is stored locally, face a shortage of seeds. In some areas, this situation has been worsened by ongoing conflicts. The small scale farmers, who under normal circumstances already have low incomes, are virtually unable to purchase the seeds needed for the next harvest. The ICRC, therefore provided seeds and food assistance for families of rainfed farmers.
Cholera is a source of particular concern, as the annual cycle started earlier and the incidence was higher than usual in 1998. Several "cholera isolation sites" and treatment centres were opened as the outbreak spread from the cities to rural areas. ICRC teams support these and other medical facilities treating the increasing number of patients by providing expertise, training of local counterparts in preventive and curative techniques and furnishing supplies for medical and water and sanitation activities. Joint ICRC/Somali Red Crescent teams also pursue their preventive and health education programmes in an effort to raise public awareness of the risks related to the disease and to underline the importance of hygiene.
Working Alongside the Somali Red Crescent:
The Somali Red Crescent remains the only national structure still in existence in Somalia. Both before and after the hostage crisis, the ICRC worked closely with the National Society in all its areas of activity and prepared the way for it to take over management of certain health, tracing and International Humanitarian Law education programmes. The ICRC completed its transfer of responsibility for the tracing service to the Somali Red Crescent, and remains on hand to provide technical and financial support as needed. With thousands of Somalis still displaced or scattered all over the globe, the tracing programme remains one of the largest and most invaluable services rendered.
The ICRC activities in Somalia cover a wide spectrum of humanitarian activities, such as:
Restoring family links through the Red Cross Message Network (RCM) and Tracing Service:
Between January and September 1999, the ICRC:
- together with the Somali Red Crescent, collected and distributed 12,639 RCMs between members of disbursed families in Somalia and abroad.
- Solved 162 tracing cases.
Providing assistance to people affected by fighting or natural disaster:
- In 1999, the ICRC distributed 778 tonnes of food and material assistance,
- initiated a seed dirtibution programme for some 31,000 farming families, distributing 373 tonnes of seeds.
Organising programmes to promote protection of civilian populations among authorities, militia and elders.
Providing assistance to people affected by adverse weather conditions:
- In 1999, the ICRC supplied 700 trucks of water (each carrying 10,000 litres) to 200 locations for 5 weeks to combat the serious water shortage.
- Assisted with the rehabilitation of water points, reservoirs, boreholes and hand-dug wells throughout Somalia.
Cooperation with the National Society in health care activities:
- The ICRC supports 14 outpatient department clinics for the civilian population, in cooperation with the Somali Red Crescent. An average of 23,000 consultations are carried out each month.
In 1999, the ICRC:
- fully supported Keysaney and Galkayo hospitals, run by the Somali Red Crescent in cooperation with the ICRC, by supplying medicines, surgical materials, cleaning products and fuel .
- broadcast the names of 4,902 Somalis through the BBC Somali Service in Nairobi on behalf of families trying to locate missing relatives.
Budget and Staff:
The 2000 budget for ICRC Somalia SFr 33,806,293.
- 11 expatriates based in Nairobi.
- 27 locally hired staff.