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Somalia: food aid distributed to over 900,000 people

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, December 16, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The long-awaited rainfall that finally reached Somalia in October is a blessing for farmers and herders alike. However, nearly impassable roads slow down transport. So far, the ICRC has provided over 900,000 people with food to tide them over until they can harvest their crops.

Assisting drought victims

Together with the Somali Red Crescent Society, the ICRC has distributed beans, rice and oil to over 917,000 people in southern and central Somalia (72,000 people in Gedo, 97,000 in Lower Juba, 61,000 in Middle Juba, 120,000 in Galgaduud, 129,000 in Bay, 102,000 in Bakool, 120,000 in Lower Shabelle, 96,000 in Middle Shabelle and 120,000 in Hiraan). Each family has received 50 kg of rice, 25 kg of beans and 10 litres of oil. This will help farmers bridge the gap until January, when they will be able to harvest from seed the ICRC has also distributed.

The torrential rains that started in the southern provinces in early October have slowed down the transport and delivery of food aid. Most roads were turned into rivers and quagmires, and transporters had to be creative to find ways of delivering their cargo.

"Boats were used to take the food to pre-deployment sites in the Jubas," said Andrea Heath, who is in charge of the ICRC's economic-security activities in Somalia. "The presence of crocodiles was another challenge. For three weeks in late October and early November, several trucks were regularly stuck in the mud on their way to Gedo, Bakool and the Jubas."

With the cessation of the rains in December, the roads are now drying, allowing easier access to the regions and the possibility of quicker deliveries and distributions in the second round.

The ICRC complements its emergency food distributions with the more sustainable approach of providing farmers with seed and agricultural tools to prevent future malnutrition. Some 324,000 people in Nugaal, Gedo, Galgaduud, Muduug and Lower Shabelle were given varieties of vegetable seed such as green pepper, onion, Swiss chard, tomato, watermelon and carrots. Some 468,000 people in central and southern areas were given staple seed. In addition, more than 400 farmers in Jilib and Jamame benefited from a maize seed multiplication programme in which an additional 1,080 people were involved on a cash-for-work basis.

In addition, some 180,000 sandbags were distributed in the riverine areas to prevent or limit flood damage.

Mounting security concerns

Over the past few months, several areas in southern and central Somalia such as Gedo and Lower Juba provinces have been affected by new rounds of fighting that have caused additional displacement. The Dayniile district north of Mogadishu, composed of isolated villages, was the theatre of a military offensive that forced most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) who had found refuge there to move back to their homes in Mogadishu.

In Mogadishu itself, suicide attacks and incidents involving makeshift bombs, resulting in civilian and military casualties and disrupting relief work, have become more frequent.

On 10 December, a nutritional centre run by the Somali Red Crescent Society in the southern town of Bardera was hit by an air strike. Fortunately, although the facility was damaged, no one was hurt.

The ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent reminded all parties to the conflict that civilians and civilian objects must be respected and protected at all times, in accordance with international humanitarian law. When launching an attack against enemy fighters, all those involved in the hostilities must take every feasible precaution to minimize the potential harm to civilians and to civilian objects, including clinics and nutritional centres.

Tending to the needs of war-wounded patients and malnourished children

The ICRC continues to provide surgical and other medical supplies for Keysaney and Medina hospitals, where over 650 war-wounded patients – 40 per cent of them women and children – were admitted between September and November alone. The two referral hospitals for war casualties treat all patients, regardless of their clan and religious or political background. Other clinics and hospitals were supplied with more than six tonnes of surgical equipment and dressing materials to treat people wounded in the fighting that has occurred in Middle Juba, Banadir, Galgaduud and Nugaal since September.

Health-care staff at the 39 Somali Red Crescent clinics saw more than 225,000 patients between September and November. More than 40,000 children were vaccinated in the clinics. The ICRC provides the clinics with medicines and financial support and with training for their staff.

The ICRC also provides support for 27 outpatient therapeutic feeding centres and 12 mobile health clinics in southern and central Somalia, all of which are run by the Somali Red Crescent. More than 14,000 children are currently receiving treatment in the ICRC-supported facilities. Between September and November, the outpatient therapeutic programmes admitted over 20,000 children under five with severe acute malnutrition and 13,000 pregnant or lactating women with moderate acute malnutrition. Wet feeding programmes in southern Somalia provide prepared porridge twice daily for moderately malnourished children under five plus one caregiver. Over 50,000 children have benefited since the programmes were launched in September. Between September and November, staff in the mobile health clinics saw nearly 17,000 patients.

Providing access to clean water

ICRC staff have completed 18 infrastructure projects providing water for some 78,000 people in the Banadir and Mudug areas. The ICRC has also upgraded boreholes in the Galgaduud and Banadir areas that supply clean water to 36,000 people.

The ICRC has installed water systems in 11 Somali Red Crescent outpatient feeding centres catering for a total of 5,500 malnourished children daily. In addition, ICRC engineers have upgraded a Somali Red Crescent clinic near Mogadishu that admits an average of 105 patients per day.

Restoring family links

The ICRC helps people in Somalia to maintain and renew contact with family members. Since September, through the network of Somali Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC has collected almost 1,200 and distributed over 1,000 Red Cross messages, which contain family news.

In cooperation with the ICRC, the BBC Somali Service has broadcast and published on its website the names of people looking for their relatives in Somalia and abroad. As a result, 35 people found their relatives between September and October. A total of 22 travel documents were issued to people with no identity documents to enable them to be resettled with family members outside Somalia, mainly in Canada and Austria.

In response to the influx of people fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, the ICRC and the Kenya Red Cross Society have stepped up tracing activities in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. Since 18 August, the ICRC and the Kenya Red Cross have made available a mobile phone service enabling refugees to call their families. By the end of November, over 33,000 telephone calls, including over 3,800 by minors, had been made to relatives in Somalia and elsewhere in the world.

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 biri ma gedo ("spared from the spear"), which recognizes women, children, the wounded, the sick and certain others as protected against attack.