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Aid agencies unable to reach famine victims in Somalia

Outside the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu
Outside the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu

Armed conflict continues to impact on international agencies' ability to carry out relief activities for Somali famine victims in Mogadishu. The situation is severely affected by drought, famine, displacement, violence and governance issues. SOS Children have been forced to abandon our projects in the area for the safety of our children and staff.

Since 1991, Somalia has been embroiled in a multi-faceted emergency, marked by a lack of a central government, civil war, poverty, hunger, droughts and flooding.

Half of all Somali children are malnourished; their immune systems are vulnerable to diseases born by unclean waters. The United Nations estimates that half a million people are residing in temporary, plastic shelters in the city. The arrival of the autumn rains poses a new threat, having already flooded the shelters of 2,800 people in the Sigale refugee camp. Two children have already been killed, while another child has been reported missing.

Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have crowded already dense refugee camps, such as the Dadaab camp near the Kenya-Somalia border. As many as 80,000 people have already died in Somalia’s famine, including 30,000 children. In Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, 15 children out of every 10,000 die every day from famine and drought. The child mortality rate here is the worst in the entire country.

On top of these humanitarian and environmental pressures, armed conflict continues to interfere with relief efforts.

On 4 October, a suicide bomb killed more 100 people in the city; many of whom were students awaiting exam results outside the ministry of education. Last week, military factions took over the SOS Children’s Village and SOS hospital in the city, forcing all children, SOS mothers, hospital employees and patients to evacuate the premises.

The violence has spilled over into neighbouring countries. Two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped from a refugee camp in Kenya on 13 October. Doctors Without Borders chief, Juan Antonio Bastos, has also announced that Montserrat Serra (age 40) and Blanca Thiebaut (age 30) had been heading toward Somalia yesterday, but Kenyan security forces found their vehicle abandoned in the desert some 30 kilometers from the border. The gunmen responsible for abducting the two aid workers shot and injured their Kenyan driver. Kenyan authorities have dispatched troops and six helicopters to search for the Spaniards.

In light of the kidnappings, humanitarian organisations operating in the Dadaab refugee camp have scaled back their relief efforts. The UN itself has reportedly curtailed all relief services not essential to saving lives, relegating hundreds of staffers to offices and cancelling social services such as education and family relocation.

“Only water, food and health services are being maintained,” said Needa Jehu-Hoyah, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees. “This will of course have an impact on the poor refugees.”

At the present time, we are unable to operate our maternity ward at the hospital, or provide vital medical services for hundreds of thousands of refugees in the area suffering from malnutrition and associated conditions. Read more about how the conflict has affected our facilities.