Somalia

Somalia: ICRC provides relief for half a million people faced by life threatening food shortages

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Geneva (ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is again expanding its emergency humanitarian relief work to respond to the deepening crisis in Somalia. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis face life-threatening food shortages owing to the escalating armed conflict and the effects of the severe drought in central and southern areas.

In the coming weeks, the ICRC is planning to distribute dry-food rations to 435,000 people in Mudug, Galgudud, Nugal, Bari and Sool regions. More than 11,000 families displaced by conflictwill receive essential household items such as blankets, shelter materials, clothes and kitchen sets.

"We are seeing a major deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia," said Pascal Mauchle, head of the organization's delegation for the country. "Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the fighting and drought. External factors, such as the global food crisis and the skyrocketing prices resulting from it, have made the economic situation even worse. The chronic nature of the crisis had completely exhausted people's coping abilities."

Emergency aid

This year, the ICRC has already distributed food rations for up to four months to more than half a million people affected by drought and conflict. In addition, 75,000 families forced to abandon their homes have received household items and shelter materials.

"In 2008, the ICRC will have almost tripled its food aid compared with last year," said Mathias Frese, the organization's relief coordinator for Somalia, adding that loss of basic property such as land and cattle was posing an acute danger to the livelihoods of civilians and that growing numbers of Somalis were now completely destitute.

Treating the wounded

In Mogadishu, the ICRC is providing medical supplies for Keysaney and Medina hospitals, which have between them treated more than 2,500 casualties of the ongoing fighting since January.

The organization has also extended its support to five additional primary health-care clinics on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Run by the Somali Red Crescent Society, they are caring for more than 200,000 people who have fled the capital in recent months.

Since August 2007 an ICRC-backed team of surgeons from the Qatar Red Crescent Society has been working at KeysaneyHospital, which is managed by the Somali Red Crescent.

Protecting civilians

"Civilian casualties are extremely high," said Pascal Mauchle. "The ICRC has repeatedly called on all the parties to the conflict in Somalia to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, especially reminding them that every feasible precaution must be taken to spare and protect civilians."

Improving livelihoods and water resources

The organization is also helping people in Somalia through water and sanitation projects, as well as livelihood programmes to increase agricultural production and raise incomes for communities and vulnerable groups particularly affected by the worsening situation.

"We're very busy repairing and upgrading water-supply systems", reported Julian Jones, water and habitat coordinator for the country. So far this year, he said, the ICRC had improved groundwater sources such as wells and boreholes while doing work on surface-water storage facilities such as private reservoirs and rainwater catchments. It had ensured that some 180,000 people continued to have access to water. Similar projects under way were expected to benefit a further 140,000 people by the end of the year.

In 2008, the ICRC mounted a large-scale operation to respond to the effects of drought following a number of severely below-average rainy seasons and an acute drought in central and southern Somalia. This has involved trucking 277 million litres of water to almost half a million pastoralists and their livestock.

To mitigate the effects of erratic rainfall and boost self-sufficiency among the farming population along the Shebele and JubaRivers, the ICRC has supplied 67 pumps and repaired and upgraded four sluice-irrigation gates. This work has secured agricultural production on some 1,300 hectares of farmland. After two or three consecutive crop failures caused by drought, many destitute farmers no longer had enough seed to continue. About 37,000 families were therefore provided with 455 tonnes of staple seed including sorghum, maize, cowpea and sesame. In addition, 20,000 seed kits with a variety of six different vegetables have been distributed. The beneficiaries will be able to sell some of their vegetable production - a small but regular source of income.

In consultation with community leaders at camps for displaced people on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the ICRC identified women as the most vulnerable group in this critical period. Single mothers, widows with children and low-income families were provided with milling machines, seven in all. The machines mill grain for displaced people in the camp and surrounding areas, providing a source of income for their operators.

The ICRC has been in Somalia since 1977. It has operations in the centre and south of the country, where armed clashes continue and essential services are almost totally lacking.

The ICRC is responding to Somalia's complex emergencies through a broad spectrum of activities, aimed mainly at the rural population. To function in this difficult environment, the organization operates through a network of experienced and qualified locally hired staff. At the same time, the ICRC works in close partnership with the Somali Red Crescent, its aim being to expand that organization's capacities in the areas of health, relief and tracing.

For further information, please contact:

Pedram Yazdi, ICRC Somalia, tel. + 254 20 272 3963 or +254 722 518 142
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Nairobi, tel. + 254 20 272 3963 or +254 722 512 728
Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. + 41 22 730 2282 or +41 79 217 32 80
or visit our website: www.icrc.org