For the first time in decades, a child born in Somalia today has the chance to become part of a generation who may experience peace, and stability. With this would come a string of opportunities that would benefit Somali communities and families across the country: from education; to health care; better nutrition to clean water; empowerment to protection. In sum, a range of prospects and potential that Somali children have long been denied.
It is true, the challenges facing children in Somalia remain formidable. The country suffers a humanitarian crisis that is both complex and painfully enduring. Without ongoing timely action, the threat of famine can rapidly reappear, since coping mechanisms have been severely weakened over the past years. But Somalis have also shown an impressive ability to navigate such hardships, and to find resilience in the face of disease outbreaks and nutrition crises. It is amid such resolve, that agencies such as UNICEF, with partners, worked around the clock in 2018 to support Somali women and children.
By way of just a few examples:
lifesaving health services reached more than one million people, including more than 320,000 young children; one million people were given temporary access to safe drinking water; nutrition services were provided to 200,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. These are enormous numbers of people reached, though it’s critical to remember that each one of them wears the face of a child, or a mother seeking to keep that child safe. Each one represents a child for whom hope now stands tall against hazard. At the same time, in 2018 more than 100,000 children, nearly half of them girls, studied in a safe learning environment. Many did so for the first time in their lives. There are few more satisfying moments than seeing a girl go to school for the first time; or a mother’s face when she is able to vaccinate her child; or access clean water. These are the images UNICEF carries with it; images seen from the ‘frontline’, as UNICEF made an ambitious move to work ever closer with Somali women and children. While UNICEF has long maintained a large field presence in Somalia, 2018 was the year UNICEF Somalia Country Office re-opened in Mogadishu, after more than 25 years of operating remotely from Nairobi, Kenya. Such progress bodes immensely well for 2019 and our work for children and women.
Of course, amid the progress, amid a feeling that this may be the moment for expanded progress, UNICEF and partners continue to address grave issues. Girls and young women face threats - such as gender-based violence and female genital mutilation - which risk their own health, and undermine the next generation. Boys remain threatened by recruitment by armed forces and groups. And 70 per cent of children are out of school. Again, “70 per cent” risks being yet another statistic. But say it slowly. Almost three in four children in Somalia are out of school, away from the safety school provides and the priceless opportunity it offers. All of which amplifies the criticality of continuing 2018’s progress in health, water, sanitation, protection, nutrition, and most certainly education.
The past year also saw a number of vital economic achievements, including the first development strategy for Somalia by the World Bank. Efforts in building resilience of the Somali communities against future shocks and crisis also received a substantial boost through a joint programme of WFP and UNICEF. Beyond their powerful monetary value, these are significant, for Somalia stands at a crossroads. This is the time to invest in longer-term sustainable development programming.
And so to the year ahead, UNICEF will strengthen our strong foothold across the country. We will work with every partner who has the same tenacity and belief in the people of Somalia, as we collectively strive to build the capacity of Somali families and communities to provide the services and access to opportunities that all children deserve.
We thank each and every donor, partner and supporter for their efforts in Somalia this past year, and look forward to working together – to working for the children and women of Somalia – in 2019.
Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Somalia Representative