Monday, July 25, 2011 0 comments

Somalia’s walking corpses.

By Guled Mohamed

DOOBLEY, Somalia, July 19 – Just hours after giving birth to her first born son and still reeling from the excruciating pain of labour, 20 year old Madina Abdi, had to hurriedly jump into a truck ferrying starving children and elderly men and women fleeing a severe drought that has left half of Somalia’s population in dire need of emergency food aid.

When the truck ferrying over 150 dust-filled hungry Somalis together with Madina and her yet-to-be named 4 day old son finally made it into Doobley town 24 hours later and without eating anything, the young mother was so weak and barely able to get out of the crowded truck forcing her equally frail looking young husband to carry her off the vehicle.

Around a 100 pale-looking children uncontrollably wept for food as their feeble mothers helpless watched, not knowing what to tell them. Many of the elderly passengers could not open their mouth to speak, instead pointed at their empty pangs as if to tell us they were too hungry to speak.

The few who gathered strength to speak gave a chilling account of their journey from Dinsoor in Bakool region located around 300 kilometers to the Somali border town of Doobley. Bakol and the two Shabelle regions are the worst affected by the biting drought which neither has spared the other parts of Somalia.

Their condition was so appalling, we were so touched and had to chip into our pockets to buy them food. They said the two sacks of rice, one bag of sugar and 10 litres of cooking oil and some milk for the kids would give them the necessary energy to trek to Dadaab where they hope they would get aid assistance.

“I was struggling to hold my son because the truck was packed to the brim. We fled from hunger after our livestock perished and our farms in Gurban village dried up. We hope to get food and shelter at the refugee camps where we are heading. We have not celebrated his birth and neither have we even named him yet. Food is our priority at the moment,” Madina said safely tucking her toddler under her dusty clothes away from the scorching sun and dusty surrounding.

Those fleeing Somalia are mostly farmers and herdsmen from the country’s food basket areas of Middle and Lower Shabele, Middle Juba region as well as Bay region in the south and central parts of the country severely hit by the drought, the worst to hit Somalia the last half a century.

The United Nations has officially announced a famine in the country due to the high levels of malnourishment rates among children above normal thresholds of 30 percent in a country dogged by two decades of a bloody conflict that has made life even worse for many of its impoverished residents.

The hunger-stricken Somalis are either fleeing towards the refugee camps in Kenya or towards the capital Mogadishu depending on distance. Those interviewed in Doobley and on their way to the Kenyan refugee camps in Dadaab said many more drought victims were trekking towards the refugee camps with the weakest dropping dead on the way. Somali officials say the drought has already claimed at least 10,000 people.

“Thousands of people fleeing the drought come daily through Doobley by bus or trucks. The unlucky ones trek hundreds of miles arriving tired and looking so frail like walking corpses. The situation is so bad and people have started to die of hunger and thirst. We cannot do much to help because we are also affected. All we do for them is to give them water and share the little food we have,” said Adan Dahir Hassan, Dobley district commissioner.

On our way back from Doobley, we met some more Somalis fleeing the drought by foot.

“People are dropping off dead on the way. The situation is so serious. I managed to survive by eating wild fruits and sipping small amounts of water I carried. We had to plead for a lift for the most vulnerable children and women who could barely walk as a result of swollen feet. I have never witnessed such a magnitude of suffering in my life, it is simply horrible,” said Nuuno Nuurow, a 50 year old father of 5 trekking towards the refugee camps whose children were among those who hitched a lift.

Habiba Abdirahman, 70, whom we met pulling her few belongings on a Donkey cart that also carried her granddaughter along the Liboi-Dadaab road also gave a chilling account of their death-defying journey past Al-Shabaab militants who despite allowing aid agencies access to the affected regions are reportedly stopping the drought-stricken Somalis from moving towards the refugee camps in Kenya, in Mogadishu and across the Ethiopian border where the refugees can expect help.

“We left Diinsoor 30 days ago by foot after our livestock perished and everyone was fleeing the hunger. The little food reservoir we carried finished a day ago. We have been living off begging for food from commuters and residents. I can keep walking but my only worry is my grand daughter who has not had a meal since yesterday. We don’t know what to expect at the refugee camps. We simply hope to get food and shelter there,” she said, pointing at her skinny grandchild safely tacked on top of the cart.

Back at the overcrowded refugee camps in Dadaab, there are two contrasting images and conditions of the Somali refugee. You will see a few well-off refugees eking out a living from running businesses at the camps where they have lived for the last two decades.

However, the most disturbing image is that of the newly arrived refugees who have no food, water or a place to call home prompting their better off relatives and friends to donate clothes and share food with them. Every Somali refugee you speak to has a sad story to say. Some of them have even lost family members on the way out of hunger-related conditions.

International aid agencies assisting the Somali refugee say they are overwhelmed by the record number of arriving refugees. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which manages the 3 refugee camps of Ifo, Dagahalay and Hagadera that receive at least 1,500 Somali refugees daily fleeing the biting hunger at home further congesting the refugee camps in Dadaab, home to already around 380, 000 refugees from Somalia, a country without an effective government since 1991.

The World Food Programme, which provides cereals and specialized foodstuff for children for curbing the rising malnourishment rates within the refugee camps, says despite funding shortfalls they are managing the humanitarian catastrophe.

“Our food pipeline is tight but we have enough to keep feeding the Somali refugees as we keep knocking all doors of our main donors and other possible new donors in order to continue saving lives. We give a 15 day ration of cereals, cooking oil and sugar to each registered family. For the malnourished children under the age of 5 we give a special Corn Soya Blend (CSB), a protein-rich foodstuff that helps them recover quickly from the malnutrition,” WFP Kenya Public Information Officer, Rose Ogolla said at a food distribution point in Dagahaly refugee camp .

As the south and central regions continue to witness dry spells, incidentally, monsoon rains have been pounding Mogadishu for the last few days further complicating conditions of those who have fled towards the city due to lack of proper shelter and medicine at a time when measles outbreak has been reported in the capital city and surrounding areas.

In Dadaab though, Somali refugees say they have to put with poor conditions at the moment because aid coming in is too little compared to the magnitude of their problems.

Khadija Abdisalan, who arrived at Dagahaly refugee camp’s new “Bula Bakhti” unit or the Corpses camp a month ago, struggled to explain her young family’s miseries and the condition of her 10 month old severely malnourished daughter called Shukri.

“My breasts have dried up due to the starvation we are experience at home. We have nothing much to eat because we just arrived last month. She was a healthy baby girl a few months ago but now she is so skinny with protruding bones. My worst fear is loosing her. I just hope she will make it,” Khadija said, tears flowing off her pale cheeks.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 0 comments

Is it too late too little as Al-Shabaab lifts aid ban?

July 6 - Popaganga is a very powerful tool and that is what the extremist group Al-Shabaab seems to have mastered. Unfortunately, their propagandist manouvers sometimes goes beyond reasonable logic.

Tens of thousands of Somalis are langusihing in drought-stricken areas controlled by the extremist group and it has taken the group months to realize they had made a huge blunder.

On Tuesday evening the group sought to clear their name from any blame by announcing what they have done for the poor people as well as calling upon humanitarian agencies to help alleviate the suffering of the mostly rural peasants and nomadic population affected by the hard-hitting drought which is fast wiping everything it in its wake. across.

In a bid to redeem their public image, Al-Shabaab has now urged aid agencies to come forward and assist the affected populations. This comes after months of refusing the same aid agencies they often referred to as "INFIDELS" access to help mitigate effects of the prolonged drought that has now started claiming the lives of emaciated victims located across almost the entire south and central regions of Somalia.

Even this time round they tied the appeal with a condition saying they would only allow aid agencies without "a hidden agenda" as if their baseless claim for previously denying access to the much needed life saving interventions by humanitarian organizations was anything to go by.

Is the latest Al-Shabaab move too little too late?

Saving any human being is always a noble mission. The only regret is their unfounded crackdown on denying affected populations their rightful assistance when they needed it most.

It's never too late to come to the rescue of a dying population, especially those facing a drought of the same magnitude as that in Somalia where the food prices are said to have rised by over 200 percent as a result of lack of rains in the worst drought to have hit teh country for the past 10 years.

The drought situation is said to be so serious that children and the elderly have started dying from starvation-related complications with over 1500 people crossing on daily basis into the already overflowing refugee camps in Kenyan.

The latest decision by the extremists group to finally allow humanitarian agencies access to the affected regions is welcome. However, the access must be unhindred and safety of the aid workers must be guaranteed given that Al-Shabaab is known to have killed aid workers before.

Let us hope the extremists have learnt their lessons, although past experiences has shown that the group never learns from past mistakes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 0 comments

Time to walk the talk.

A lot has been said or written following the acrimonious dismissal of former Somalia Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, who has since become a public idol amongst the Somali people.

Many Somalis were unhappy when Farmajo was stripped off his PM post last month in a dubious political agreement between bitter rivals President Sheikh Sharif and the Speaker of parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden.

For the first time in Somalia's long feuding history, ordinary Somalis bitterly protested the decision to sack PM Farmajo. People demonstrated in Mogadishu, Europe and North America irregardless of their clan affiliations.

“They say everyone can differentiate bad from good. We want the world to know that Farmajo was our best hope. He proved himself and has paid a price for his vision and patriotism. History will judge him right. The issue of clans is no longer a problem in Somali, the people were simply held hostage by corrupt and egocentric leaders who did not care for the ordinary people. Farmajo was very different from the crop of leaders we have. It’s a pity he has been kicked out but we will never forget him.” Said one of the protestors in Mogadishu, draped in the sky-blue colours of his flag.

Even government soldiers were not left behind. They joined women and children in calling for Farmajo to be spared. They even threatened to leave their defensive positions if he was forced out. It took Farmajo himself to restrain people.

But what baffles many pundits and the ordinary folk alike is simply what the soft-spoken bespectacled Faramjo did to win such an unprecedented support across the myriad Somali clans who have never agreed on anything and everything before. Such unity of purpose has eluded Somalia for many years.

When he was appointment Prime Minister of Somalia on October 14 many people thought he would just come and go like the many other PM's who preceded him. But that was not the case.

Like any other politician, he set out his targets by giving himself 100 days to show results. That is where Farmajo differs from the rest of other Somali politicians who only seem too preoccupied with enriching themselves at the expense of their war-weary constituents and badly dilapidated war-ravaged country.

He chose to serve his people by breaking away from past practices of nepotism and corruption, which unfortunately were the order of the day. As soon taking office he centralized government finances by strengthening the central bank and directing that all monies be stashed there.

Briefcase ministries were a thing of the past during his reign. He even outlawed the hire of private jets, a common practice in the past, forcing himself and fellow cabinet members as well as top officials including the speaker of parliament to fly on regular public airlines. The President was the only official allowed to fly privately, which in many cases makes sense largely due to security related reasons.

He also warned government officers against sleaze saying anyone caught stealing public money will be prosecuted. In simple terms, he led by example in stopping unnecessary costs and focusing on result oriented projects.

He ordered port officials and airport management to remit their daily tax collection to the central bank where no one was allowed to withdraw money without presenting a signed cheque bearing his signature.

His efforts paid off as the government was able to save tens of thousand of dollars which initially disappeared without trace. The new financial savings allowed the government to pay off civil servants including government soldiers who rarely received any salaries before.

He even made sure lawmakers started receiving their monthly pay from the same public coffers.

Mogadishu city started glittering during his reign too as streets were lit and cleaned. Garbage collection was a daily chore in which he himself took part in the clean up exercise.

The best of all, government soldier were so happy with their pay roll that they started to seriously challenge Al-Shabaab in the various frontlines of Mogadishu. The government army with the help of AMISOM peacekeepers managed to unset Al-Shabaab from strategic and historical locations in Mogadishu including the former Defence headquarters and African village, which hosted the first OAU meeting in Mogadishu.

It was therefore a big releif of the whole world when a government soldier killed Fazul Mohamed Abdallah. Al-Qaeda most wanted man in East Africa on 8 June. Traditonally that governemnt soldiers who was manning a checkpoint would not have been in his post if it were not for Farmajo and his team's relentless efforts to pay off soldiers and ensure they are well catered for.

The Al-Shabaab loss to the government rekindled patriotism among many Somalis making PM Farmajo a favorite among the despondent population. In my opinion, this is what makes Faramajo the man of the moment in Somalia.

Sometimes I feel Somalia is so unfortunate. Every time the country takes one step forward, unknown forces fight back to take the country ten steps backwards. PM Farmajo might have left office but the people of Somalia know that he was the best hope for the country purely due to his openness and accountability.

I have no intention of ruling out the current PM, Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who also served as a minister in Farmajo's cabinet. I believe in justice and feel that we should give Dr. Abdiweli and his team the same support we extended to PM Farmajo. After all what we seek to save is our dignity and our country Somalia.

I just want to thanks Farmajo for setting the standards so high. It is my belief as well as that of many goodwill Somalis and the rest of the world that Dr. Abdiweli will discharge his duties diligently and without fear or favor.

We might have lost a great leader in Farmajo, but who knows, Dr. Abdiweli might simply surprise us all by taking the country into greater heights. We are lucky that we have somewhere to start from thanks to the exemplary vision and patriotism of Farmajo and his team.

I pen off with a few lines from the Somali national anthem which will help us start walking the talk by coming together to support our brothers and sisters severely affected by drought and famine in Somalia.

Somalis wake up, wake up and support one another
Support you’re weakest
Support them forever.

Humanitarian appeal

Speach of Somali ambassador to Kenya Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur

Today (30 June)– and at midnight – we will raise the Somali flag and celebrate Somalia’s brave search for nationhood.

In the creation of the Republic of Somalia, our people proudly stood up and joined the family of African nations. It was unimaginable happiness to break the colonial change as our African brothers did. However it is a human desire to aim high and succeed and sometimes fail as we are not different.

Today Somalia is facing a rocky road to convalesce its position as a sovereign state with confidence in its future, stable and secure.

As that political journey is made, I fear that the minds of most of the Somali people are focused on much more immediate concerns. The daily quest for the basics of existence is creating a barrier to Somali political stability and is endangering the lives of millions here on the continent of Africa.

Food, clean water and shelter are basics that many of us can take for granted. In Somalia, the story is different – and getting worse by the day. When mothers are not worrying about their offspring being recruited by the extremists Al Shabaab, they spend too much time worrying about where the next meal will come from.

With little infrastructure and support everyone knows that without international humanitarian support the plight of the Somali people would be much worse. But today the threat is grave and the danger imminent.

Coinciding with ongoing conflict today’s Somalia is the site of a tragic series of coincidences. An ongoing and severe drought, rising regional food prices, declining locally produced staple foods and reductions in the delivery of emergency food aid have all come together - threatening to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

Some say this is not even imminent; an NGO Head operating in Lower Shabelle doesn’t say we are on the verge of a humanitarian disaster but we already in the middle of it.

Consecutive poor rainy seasons have made this year the driest one in Somalia since 1950. Last year’sdeyr rainfall from October to December was well below normal. The effect of La Nina is having its toll still. Most worryingly the UN fear that the rainfall situation will not improve until next year.

In recent days, we have seen and heard through the media about some of the tragic symptom of this growing crisis. Save the Children declared that unprecedented numbers are fleeing across the border into Kenya. About 1,300 people are arriving every day in Dadaab refugee camp. They are fleeing one of the worst droughts in generations as well as the ongoing conflict. We are very grateful for the Kenyan Government for allowing Somali Refugee temporarily stay at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, and the UN agencies and donor communities for helping the Somali refugees, but since more refugees are arriving, we appeal to them to increase the humanitarian assistance.

Since December 2010, the average daily cost of food for Somali families has increased between by 20% percent, with areas in the south reporting increases of almost 40 percent. For people already suffering extreme poverty they have no cushion which means they can handle these sorts of increases.

Staple foodstuffs are becoming out of the reach of too many Somalis. Current maize prices in Somalia are now back at the of the food price crisis of 2008. Red sorghum is at record levels and well above the levels of that well-publicised crisis. Back then the world’s attention was focused on the problem.

Today, I am horrified that the world’s attention seems to be absent.

The figures confirm a truly disturbing story. According to the UN’s FAO from January to April 2011, maize prices have risen by 80% in Marka market, the main maize producing southern region of Lower Shabelle, while sorghum prices increased by 50% in Baidoa market, Bay region, located in the Sorghum Belt. In the capital city Mogadishu, prices of maize and sorghum increased over the same period by 70% and 60% respectively.

The World Food Programme have admitted that they’re only able to feed just two thirds of the one million people that need to be fed but they have had to cut the size of the rations. This means the amount of food being given out is only 33% of what should be given out.

We are now in a position to help. The courageous sacrifice of the African Union troops must be met with action from the international agencies. TFG and AMISOM soldiers now control most of Mogadishu city. For that reason of the growing safe zone displaced people are flooding in.

It is thought that some 80% of the city’s population are now in this area. That is an area where international agencies can and should operate. And those people who are escaping the clutches of the brutal regime of the extremists are crying out for help.

AMISOM strives to deliver its mandate to provide emergency humanitarian support but the millions affected in Somalia require a comprehensive, full scale response from those agencies that are best-placed to deliver food, water and shelter to the people on the ground.

At present, I call upon to stand up and applaud the work of the African Union troops as I call on you to recognise the need for action, which is the sole reason that I want you to stand up and welcome the launch today of the Embassy of Somalia Emergency Drought Appeal.

We must act today to stop tomorrow’s catastrophe. Two years ago I saw with my own eyes the plight of Somali people in Dhobley who had been displaced by the conflict and the destruction of their livelihoods, at the same time I noticed the tales of endurance and suffering.

Back then after a similar appeal for support, I had led a team to that southern Somali town that delivered some 20 tonnes of emergency food aid to the people there.

I witnessed the immediate effect on the people there. It was gratifying not only for me to be able to see such a response but also immensely rewarding for all the people who had been so generous in their contributions.

I ask you now, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, to re-double your efforts and respond to the call to support the people of Somalia.

And the Somali diaspora must have an important role here. The message must be carried far and wide. I ask you to fill the airwaves with this call for support. I know that, though many Somalis have been forced to leave their home land, their home has not left their heart. This Appeal is a way in which Somalis around the world can know that they are giving responsibly, giving to a fund that will have a real, immediate impact on the ground.

Today, I stand in front of you to tell you that real lives are vanishing completely. In Middle and Lower Shabelle, in Qoryoley, Kurtunwarey ,Sablale and other areas through out Somalia our estimate is that over 10,000 families – of men, women and children - have been seriously affected by the current drought. Those remaining in the area are the ones who cannot even afford transport to Mogadishu. Most of those who are dying are children, the elderly, and lactating and pregnant mothers.

As we stand here and celebrate Independence, we must stand by the Somali people. The immediate future for the Somali people is bleak because all too many factors outside their control are coming together to deliver a catastrophe to the Somali people.

Giving to this Emergency Drought Appeal will have a real impact to people on the ground. Now is the time to make sure 2011 is not remembered as the year of tragedy in Somalia. We have a duty to avert the impending calamity. We all have an opportunity to stand by the Somali people - and we must. I thank you all.