Austin Kennan is the Horn of Africa regional director for Concern Worldwide
. The Dublin-based aid organization has been working in Somalia for 25 years.
It’s a very desperate situation here in Mogadishu. People are literally putting up shelters on the side of roads. And more people keep coming in.
They hear there’s food here. And there is, in the market stalls, but it’s mainly imported – and expensive. People coming to the capital have lost everything. We met one man and his wife who had owned 300 goats and 12 cattle – that’s a lot. That means they were middle class. But they literally lost everything, and had to migrate to Mogadishu, where they’re now living in a shelter they built themselves.
Some people have travelled all the way from the Kenya/Ethiopia border. Some of them have walked the whole way to the capital. One woman I met walked for ten days, during which she lost three of her six children. She was obviously traumatised. She was barely able to speak.
During the famine in 1992, a quarter of a million people died. Our staff working here on the ground full-time says the situation looks nearly as severe now as it did then.
The first thing we do to help new arrivals is provide them with plastic sheets to protect their shelters, as well as blankets because it can get quite cold at night. We give them cooking utensils, pots and pans. We give them food vouchers that they can take to shops with which we’ve made arrangements. There they’ll get flour, sugar, oil, and necessities like that. Distressing numbers of children are malnourished, so our focus is on giving them special nutritional foods based on peanuts.
Mogadishu’s residents are doing their best to help those displaced by the drought, but they’re suffering themselves. The crisis is a combination of three factors: drought, conflict, and a huge jump in food prices. Everyone in Somalia is feeling it.
What aid organisations need to do now is scale up operations, which is a real challenge. If we can get more funding, we can add to staffing, expand programmes and avoid the worst of this crisis. If we don’t, this crisis will get worse.
There’s the immediate situation of trying to save lives, but looking ahead, we know people aren’t going to recover from this drought until at least the end of 2012. So we will need support for long-term work.”