Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck was recently part of the organization’s first visit to Somalia by non-African staffers in several years. Here is the second part of her account of a trip shaped by strict security rules.
My glimpses of Mogadishu, behind the tinted windows of our car speeding as fast as it could to avoid being a sitting target, were tantalisingly brief. The legacy of war was obvious: there were many wrecked or bullet-marked buildings.
But the city also showed surprising signs of brisk daily life. There were colorful hand-painted shop signs advertising wares; traders sat on the dusty roadside touting their goods—often small collections of fruit and vegetables. Some sat behind sandbags, which might offer protection if fighting flared. Though signs of commerce and of food availability were evident, for many who fled hunger and drought, the prices were way above what they could afford.
That’s why the centers that offered some basic help were packed. At one community-based therapeutic care center I visited run by SAACID, staffers were working flat-out as mothers and their children continued to stream in.
In one area, health promoters were explaining good healthcare practices to young mothers and why it was important to breastfeed; in another, children were being vaccinated against measles; and in yet another section, the frailest of children were being assessed and weighed. Almost all were malnourished; some, dangerously so. Mothers coming here will receive therapeutic food to help their children’s recovery.
Hawee Mohammed, 35, had brought in her 7 month-old son, Ibrahim. He weighed just more than 10 pounds – almost half the normal weight for a child of his age.
After their animals died and the children got sick, the family moved to Mogadishu from Bay region, an area declared famine-hit by the. Hawee told me Ibrahim’s twin brother died of diarrhea and she was desperate to get help for Ibrahim, who had a high fever.
“There are many people who are in a similar situation to me, or even worse off,” Hawee said. “The situation is terrible.”
As in most crises, it is the youngest who are the most vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands are dangerously malnourished in a country which has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under the age of 5.
They desperately need help. The famine in Somalia shows no sign of easing and tens of thousands of people have died. The UN says 750,000 people are at risk of starvation. As I saw on my visit, aid is getting into Somalia. But the problem is that it’s still nowhere on the scale that’s needed.
Read more about Mogadishu in Part I of this blog.