Fighting Famine at its Source

from Relief International
Published on 29 Aug 2011 View Original

When the United Nations officially declared a famine in the Horn of Africa on July 20, 2011, the food crisis in Somalia had already been developing for some time. Food security in the region has been severely declining due to historical levels of drought and rising world food prices, but famine does not erupt over-night. The slow-onset drought also translates into a critical and much-needed intervention to save lives in magnitudes.

Due to the political climate in Somalia and harsh working environment, Relief International is one of the very few organizations actually operating at the heart of the crisis in Somalia rather than in neighboring countries, and has been engaged there since 2007. Relief International’s programs range from emergency response to long-term development efforts that improve the ability of people to cope with events such as drought.

In particular, Relief International has been working in nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, and livelihoods in Somalia and is expanding these operations to additional drought-affected areas in Somalia. Over one quarter of the population is currently displaced and hundreds of thousands are fleeing to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya to seek refuge, placing further burden on the refugee camps, and the local populations also suffering from the drought.

From a public health view, camps are dangerous – becoming breeding grounds for communicable diseases and often lacking adequate security. Moreover camps often become multi-generational tragedies. The main challenge is within Somalia itself, and this is why Relief International is working at the heart of the crisis.

As Relief International Board Member and Somalia expert Steve Hansch states:

“Relief International has been one of only a handful of aid agencies taking the risks to try to work inside of Somalia during the past five years. Now that Somalia’s need is at its greatest level, RI is already there and able to scale up its work. It’s still very hard for aid groups to get into Somalia, and many have been kicked out. RI’s approach is informed by years of working in very difficult war-zones, like Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Darfur, Kosovo and Chechnya, where it has faced these sorts of problems before.”

Relief International’s current work in Somalia is designed to be sustainable by gaining the trust of local communities, and meeting the relief and emergency needs where appropriate and minimizing displacement while building human capital and creating opportunities to improve the resilience of the Somali people.

Our Health and Sanitation programs provide critical early screenings for malnutrition, as well as nutrition and care practices education, and services 3,485 vulnerable households. Relief International trains community health workers, and focuses on vulnerable populations by offering healthcare access to women and children from 7,574 at-risk households. Currently, we are also providing 2,943 households with access to safe water through the rehabilitation of water points and distribution systems.

Our Economic and Livelihoods programs provide livestock and veterinary services, and in times of crisis, purchasing family livestock assets at fair prices saving them from emergency, low sales on a plummeting market. They also offer training at to community-level animal health workers to provide treatment for livestock, and provide over 2,000 at-risk families with goats and conservation training. Finally, Relief International is working with 1,350 Somali youth to improve literacy and financially skills to ready youth to assume leadership roles in their country in the near future.

We are also actively scaling up our existing programming to respond to the food crisis across Somalia. To date, our teams in Somalia have provided life-saving nutrition to 1,262 children through its therapeutic feeding programs. However, there is much more to be done.

Relief International is currently developing three programs to establish feeding programs and centers, and open an emergency health clinic that all together would serve over 30,000 people and directly save 4,000 children from malnutrition. However, grants are still needed to get these critical projects off the ground for efforts such as a-large scale general food distribution program and partnering with other INGOs to improve the reach of the program.

Relief International’s Dr. Hernando Garzón, who recently joined the Relief International team in Somalia, pointed out, “This event has been brewing for six months, but since it’s a slow-onset kind of event, it doesn’t get the same kind of attention as events like Japan or Katrina or Haiti. This is a much larger disaster by scale. The numbers are staggering.” Over 12.7 million people are at risk and in need of humanitarian assistance. In some regions of Somalia, global acute malnutrition rates among children are as high as 50 percent and mortality rates are increasing daily.

Relief International is in a unique position, literally, to aid the Somali people who are most and immediately affected by the drought and complex political factors exacerbating the famine. We are actively vamping up our existing humanitarian and development programs, and devising new strategies to fully encompass and mitigate the suffering and future repercussions of the current crisis on the ground.

“Now that Somalia’s need has reached critical levels, RI’s teams of relief workers are already in place, with the capacity to scale up efforts and respond to the demands of the first famine of this generation,” says Dr. Farshad Rastegar, Relief International’s CEO. Since the beginning of this crisis, many aid agencies have been both denied entry to and expelled from Somalia. “RI’s presence is now more pertinent than ever.”