Trapped between conflict and natural disaster

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21-04-2011 Operational Update

Despite recent rains in Somalia's south, livestock and food production in the country as a whole continue to suffer from severe drought. Meanwhile, military offensives launched in late February in Mogadishu and at the frontiers with Kenya and Ethiopia forced thousands to flee their homes.

Somalia has been in the grip of a severe drought since the failure of the deyr rainy season, which normally takes place from mid-September to December. Some rainfall was reported in the Bay region last week, but it was too insignificant to restore hope for a good harvest. The coastal areas from the Kenyan border to Mudug, and the southern regions of Bay, Bakool, Lower and Middle Shabelle, have been the most severely affected by the drought. Water sources are either completely dried up or seriously depleted. Only deep boreholes and some wells still provide water.

"Very little grazing land is available, which seriously threatens livestock, especially cattle," said Ottavio Sardu, an ICRC agronomist. "An estimated 10 per cent of cows and five per cent of sheep and goats have reportedly already died. Everyone is hoping that the pessimistic forecast for the new rainy season, which should normally begin over the coming days, turns out to be wrong."

Pastoralists have migrated towards the riverine areas of the middle and lower Jubas to graze and water their livestock. So many pastoralists are trying to sell their animals on local markets that meat prices have gone down considerably and incomes have plunged. Meanwhile, a slump in crop production – except in some riverine areas less dependent on rainfall – has led to a spike in food prices overall (the prices of cereals have risen up to 30 per cent, those of sugar and oil almost 50 per cent), making it extremely difficult for most people to maintain a balanced diet.

The harsh climate and recurrent droughts are an especially heavy burden for a population already exhausted by two decades of armed conflict. At the end of February, troops of the transitional federal government launched an offensive in the capital Mogadishu, backed by the African Union, and in the central region along the border with Kenya against the Islamic Al-Shabaab. The fighting displaced thousands of people, many of whom temporarily crossed the border into Kenya in search of safety in camps near Mandera town and in Liboi.

Meanwhile, every civilian who can is fleeing bullet-scarred Mogadishu, where gun shots can be heard around the clock and a large number of houses lie in ruins. Shelling is a daily occurrence in the north of the city, especially in the districts of Danyle, Bondhere, Hawl Wadaag, Abdul Aziz and Hodan. The ICRC-supported Medina Hospital was hit by 12 shells last week. Two guards were injured when one of the shells blew up near them. The remaining 11 shells, which failed to explode, were collected and are now awaiting disposal by a specialized unit.

"Although nothing suggests that the hospital was deliberately targeted, this is by no means acceptable," said Pascal Mauchle, who heads the ICRC's Somalia delegation. "It is absolutely tragic that even in a hospital people cannot feel safe."

The ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent Society remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to protect medical staff, hospitals, clinics and similar facilities. Attacks may be directed only against persons taking a direct part in hostilities and against military objectives, and warring parties must take all necessary precautions to avoid harming the civilian population and civilian objects.

Since the beginning of the latest offensive, about 15,000 people have fled Mogadishu, either towards the Afgoye corridor or towards Dayniile, north of the capital. Living conditions in the camps taking them in – which were already overcrowded before the offensive – are extremely difficult.

"Owing to a lack of sanitation, medical care and other basic necessities, a large number of people are highly dependent on aid from relatives – in the form of remittances, for example – or from humanitarian organizations," said Mr Mauchle. "All too often they are forced to commute daily between the camps and Mogadishu to try to make some money in the capital or to keep an eye on their property."

Emergency aid for over 350,000 drought victims

Following the failure of the deyr seasonal rains, the ICRC launched a major water-trucking operation. Since January, up to 350,000 displaced people and residents in 11 regions from northern Bari to southern Juba have benefited.

During the same period, the organization completed four major water infrastructure projects in Garowe, Galgaduud and Benadir benefiting some 7,500 people.

The ICRC provided the leaders of seven communities in Lower Shabelle and southern Galgaduud with cash and tools enabling them to hire unemployed people to upgrade rainwater catchments benefiting almost 4,000 people.

In Middle Juba, the ICRC paid workers to produce maize for seed, which was distributed to 900 needy farmers. The ICRC also distributed seed for fodder production to 10,000 farmers in Gedo, Lower and Middle Juba, and irrigation pumps to 2,220 farmers in several provinces in the south.

Fourteen outpatient therapeutic feeding centres operated by the Somali Red Crescent in Galgaduud, Bay and Lower Juba receive support from the ICRC. A total of 2,344 children are currently being nourished by the centres. From January to March, the centres provided services for almost 3,500 children. Two new feeding centres that were opened in Middle Juba at the end of March are currently providing services for 219 children.

Providing health care

From January to March, the ICRC made surgical and other medical supplies available to Keysaney and Medina hospitals, the capital's two referral hospitals for war casualties. Among the more than 1,200 wounded patients admitted during this period, 40 per cent were women and children.

The ICRC also delivered over 8.5 tonnes of dressing materials and other medical supplies to various medical facilities throughout the country for the treatment of war-wounded patients.

In addition, the ICRC provides equipment, staff training and other support for 39 Somali Red Crescent health-care facilities in the southern and central parts of the country to ensure that the basic needs of the population are met. More than 150,000 people used the services of these facilities between January and March. The ICRC also arranged for three Somali Red Crescent facilities to be renovated and upgraded.

During the same period, around 20,000 children were vaccinated against common childhood diseases such as polio.

Restoring family links

The ICRC helps family members separated by conflict in Somalia stay in touch with one another and search for missing relatives. From January to March, through the network of Somali Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC collected almost 2,000 and distributed over 4,000 Red Cross messages, containing brief family news.

The names of more than 1,100 people looking for their relatives in Somalia and abroad were broadcast by the BBC Somalia Service, and almost 11,000 names were published on its website. As a result, 133 people found their relatives. A total of 46 travel documents were issued to people with no identity documents to enable them to be resettled with family members outside Somalia.

Promoting international humanitarian law

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's effort to promote compliance with international humanitarian law worldwide. The organization also spreads knowledge of international humanitarian law within civil society. In Somalia, principles of international humanitarian law can be usefully illustrated by referring to the Somali tradition of recognizing women, children, the wounded and sick, and certain others as being immune to attack (biri ma gedo).