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Getting help into Somalia: An aid worker reports

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Yesterday the UN announced that famine conditions have spread to six regions of Somalia and are affecting 750,000 people, many of them children. One of Oxfam’s local partners, Wajir South Development Association (WASDA), works with drought-hit communities in Wajir in northeastern Kenya, as well as in Lower and Middle Juba in Somalia itself. WASDA program manager Bashir Mohamed, who regularly travels into Somalia, spoke to Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck about conditions on the ground right now and the process of getting aid to those who need it most.

“… Some areas of Somalia, like Mogadishu and Gedo, have been getting more aid.  Apart from the border town of Dobley [which lies en route to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya], nothing much has reached people in Lower and Middle Juba. Access is a big problem; it’s taken a long time to get agreement from authorities for programs to start and we’ve had many delays.

Bashir Mohamed. Photo: Oxfam
Bashir Mohamed. Photo: Oxfam

“But now I hope we will be moving fast in our work. We’ve now got agreement for our cash distribution program to start. We will be targeting 14,600 households in middle Juba and lower Juba and hope we might be able to start this week. 

“We have been trucking in water into Lower Juba since July.  But the numbers of people [who need] water are increasing as the situation is getting worse. And we’ve been providing fuel subsidies to some communities so that boreholes can run 24 hours a day, as well as rehabilitating shallow wells.

“We’re planning to drill four new boreholes in the next few weeks in Lower Juba (in Hagar; Nasiriya, Wel Marow, and Bibi). And the drilling could take several weeks. The sites have all [been] chosen for their strategic locations. These are pastoral areas, but very far from rivers, towns, or other water points … so when they’re finished, it will be a great help to many people.

“Conditions are very severe; there are no health facilities and people face restrictions on their movements. People are just praying for the coming rains. But even if the rains come and we manage to reach everyone targeted in our interventions, this emergency will continue will into January and February at the earliest.

“We are planning to give agricultural inputs to farmers living in Middle Juba in the areas along the River Juba. But even if people can plant their crops in October if there’s enough rainfall, the harvest won’t be ready until January or February. We are planning help with livestock in October and November, but animals won’t be able to calve for some time after that. We are not expecting a huge improvement in the amount of food available; but at least we can avoid the situation getting even worse.  

“However, if there isn’t any rain, I think we can say that the situation could get out of hand and we fear the worst.  If the rains fail, the community have already lost almost everything and have no other means of supporting themselves. They will have to go across to Dadaab camp or they will face death.

“Our work now is a big help; you can say it offers a lifeline to people. But there are still many people who need our help and their needs are ever-increasing.  For the next four months, we will be starting cash distributions in some communities and it will make a big difference. If we can offer support with water, public health and livelihoods – and we plan to distribute seeds and tools to people in the coming weeks – it will really provide a big boost. “  

Oxfam aims to reach more than 3 million people throughout East Africa with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

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