In Somalia, emergency airlifts supply towns unreachable by road

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A major logistics operation is underway in Somalia to bring urgent aid to areas cut off from international help.

By Athanas Makundi

Cargo flights to previously cut-off areas of Somalia have enabled UNICEF to provide essential vaccines, therapeutic food and medicine for malnutrition, and school supplies for thousands of children.

HUDUR, Somalia, 15 September 2014 – Habiba Ahmed Mohamed has walked more than 7 km to reach the Maternal and Child health clinic in Hudur, capital of the Bakool region of south-western Somalia. As she arrives, she shades her sick baby from the scorching heat.

Her 7-month-old daughter, Suleeqa Mohamed is pale, breathing heavily, and her face is covered with a spotty rash.

“My child is sick. I don’t know the problem,” Habiba says softly, still recovering from the long walk from her village. “For ten days, she has had a high fever, has been sick with diahorrea, then spots appeared and spread everywhere.”

A quick examination by the clinical officer, Mr Abdullahi Abdul, leads him to suspect that Suleeqa has measles, which has affected some 7,000 Somali children this year.

The only option

The town of Hudur was controlled by armed groups for a year until this March, and the clinic was closed down. As the security situation in Somalia has shifted, however, UNICEF and other United Nations agencies have made a determined effort to bring life-saving supplies to families who have been isolated and cut off from outside help.

But with the roads to many towns still blocked, airlifts have been the only option for transporting essential supplies to newly accessible areas.

Funding from the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) supports several flights a week from Mogadishu to towns such as Baidoa, Hudur and Wajid for UN agencies. UNICEF has made full use of the flights, bringing in more than 100 tons of urgent nutrition, health, education supplies on 24 flights. The supplies include polio and measles vaccines to combat outbreaks, high-energy peanut-based paste and medicines for malnourished children and exercise books and pencils for pupils.

The arrival of UNICEF medical kits, along with polio and measles vaccines, enabled the Hudur clinic to reopen. The population of the town has more than doubled over the past six months.

“In the current circumstances, this is the best option to deliver the most needed supplies, due to the insecurity and the need to keep the required temperature for the vaccines,” says UNICEF Supply and Logistics Specialist Giorgio Figus

Today boxes of vaccines and nutritious peanut paste are offloaded onto vehicles at the dusty runway airstrip in Hudur town. The supplies are driven to the clinic now run by UNICEF’s local partner MARDO, where the refrigerators for storing the delicate vaccines are up and running.

“Now that we have the vaccines in place, we are going to do door-to-door campaigning to let everyone know they should bring their children,” says Mr. Abdul. “We will also ask mothers to bring children for malnutrition screening, since we have a supply of the peanut paste.”


As the emergency supplies are being unloaded at the clinic, Habiba arrives with her baby.

“Luckily her immune system has been fighting off the infection,” Mr. Abdul says. “That’s why she has survived. Otherwise, in severe cases of measles, the child could die, become deaf or blind.”

Next in line is Aden Mohamed, who has brought her 9-month-old son, Hamza Hussein, to be vaccinated against measles – the first in his family.

“We used to be scared to come out because of the armed fighters,” Aden says as she looks around to see if anyone is listening. “Four of my children contracted measles because there were no health services, so they could not be immunized.”

This year UNICEF has managed to bring in 87,000 vaccinations by road and air to newly accessible areas to protect children against such diseases. This is part of a larger programme of immunization in which UNICEF has delivered more than a million vaccines across all of Somalia this year.

“Measles is one of the main killer diseases for children, especially those who are under five years old,” says Dr. Abdinor Hussein, UNICEF Health Officer in Somalia.

“Somalia has had very difficult insecurity issues, and many communities were cut off from health services, but UNICEF is keen to support no matter where the location is.”

The CHF-funded flights have meant that UNICEF has been able to to treat more than 2,000 acutely malnourished children and has provided school kits for 10,000 children.

“The security situation is improving, and we hope this will pave the way for more assistance,” said Hudur District Commissioner Mohamed Moallem Misir. “We see good efforts – the children are being treated and mothers are receiving care – but the needs are more.”