AFRICA: ‘Don’t Abandon Somalia’

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By Jerome Mwanda in Nairobi

Twenty years after the Somalia President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted on January 26, 1991, the country in the Horn of Africa remains embroiled in an endless cycle of civil war, religious conflict and clan violence, and has come to be known as a failed state.

The present government led by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is in command of only a few pockets of the capital Mogadishu with the vast majority of the country now in the hands of Islamist insurgents known as the Shebab.

Somalia is one of the worlds most intractable crises. For twenty years conflict over power, resources and land has destroyed lives, created hundreds of thousands of orphans and devastated communities, Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, said on January 24.

At the same time, the United Nations and the international aid agency Oxfam have warned that drought is likely to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis which has already affected two million people.

This is all the more reason, the UN says, for the international community not to abandon Somalia, The Somali people need our support more than ever, Bowden said in a statement, adding: The international community must step up its support to the people of Somalia if we are to protect the gains we have made and prevent many more people from slipping into crisis and Somalia from becoming one of the worlds few chronic catastrophes.

The statement pointed out that the UN would soon launch a new five-year plan for Somalia called the United Nations Assistance Strategy for Somalia (UNSAS), setting out humanitarian and development goals. The UNSAS will set out the humanitarian, recovery and development objectives of the UN in Somalia for the next five years.

The UNSAS aims to increase availability of essential social services, provide livelihood opportunities and build Government institutions that are able to provide security and justice for all Somali people.

As we reflect on the tragic consequences of two decades of conflict, let us reaffirm our commitment to building a lasting peace which matches the resilience of millions of Somali people who continue to work towards a better future, Bowden added.

He pointed to a rise in the numbers of children being educated, the success of immunisation campaigns and of growth in life expectancy as proof that Somalia should not be regarded as a hopeless case.

Bowden said despite decades of conflict, many of Somalias development indicators have improved since 1991 as the UN and local partners have increased support for the provision of essential social services to vulnerable communities.

PROGRESS POSSIBLE

Progress is possible even in these difficult circumstances. Across the country, increasing numbers of children are enrolling in schools, health clinics are opening, and the economy led by the agricultural, banking and telecom sectors is growing rapidly.

UN supported immunization campaigns have kept Somalia polio-free since 2007 and the incidence of Malaria has been reduced by 57 percent between 2005 and 2009.

In the last three years the UN with local partners has also scaled-up nutrition services by over 300 percent for the treatment of acute malnutrition among the most affected infants. While indicators of Somali welfare remain low, they have shown a marked improvement since 1991 despite continuing conflict. Life expectancy has grown, access to health facilities has almost doubled, infant mortality has dropped and extreme poverty has plummeted, Bowden said.

He said despite significant signs of progress much more needs to be done as the Somali people need UN support more than ever. The international community must step up its support to the people of Somalia if we are to protect the gains we have made and prevent many more people from slipping into crisis and Somalia from becoming one of the worlds few chronic catastrophes, he said.

Oxfam said in a media release January 24 that drought is worsening the crisis in Somalia and that the new catastrophe should be the final wake-up call for the international community as millions are at risk of hunger.
WORST DROUGHT

Somalia is suffering its worst drought in years and failed rains are already devastating half a million lives. An ongoing conflict in the country -- now in its 23rd year -- together with the drought has pushed hundreds of thousands of Somalis beyond their ability to cope, Oxfam said.

It went on to say that the central and southern regions are suffering the worst effects, where some areas have received between zero and 15 percent of their usual rainfall. In the Gedo region of the south, the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) is reporting 25 percent of the population to be acutely malnourished.

FSNAU is a network in Somalia that gathers and analyses essential food security, livelihood and nutrition data that informs both emergency and development interventions.

In the nearby Juba regions, that number rises to 30 percent. Livestock herds have been decimated, forcing destitute pastoralists to migrate to towns and villages in search of aid. The failure of the Deyr rainy season, normally October to December, has left severe food and water shortages that are expected to get worse in the coming months.

The region has been hit very hard, said Zachariah Imeje, Program Officer for Oxfam. Drought and hunger are so severe, that thousands have fled the relative security of their villages and headed to Mogadishu. They are desperate enough that they will risk the fighting and shelling there, in order to find food.

More than two million people in Somalia were already living in crisis. Additional support will be needed for them to cope, or this drought could push them over the edge into an even more acute catastrophe, said Imeje.
The ongoing conflict makes access to the worst hit regions difficult. In some areas, access for humanitarian organisations seeking to reach those in need continues to be severely restricted due to the security situation.

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