August 4 2011

East Africa: How we help under impossible conditions

04/08/2011 – Political instability, infrastructural problems and the sheer scale of the crisis in East Africa are inhibiting help for the starving population. The experience and hard-won trust SOS co-workers have gained in the region are helping them to reach the refugees.

Little girl in the SOS medical centre
Little girl in the SOS health post - Photo: SOS Archives

The drought presently engulfing parts of East Africa is the worst to hit the region in 60 years. According to the United Nations, over 11.6 million people are facing starvation, with entire families and communities abandoning their homes in desperate search of food and water. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia remain the most badly affected. Political instability and infrastructural problems further complicate the situation.

Amidst these impossible conditions, SOS Children’s Villages is helping where help is needed most urgently and paving the way for more expansive help all over the Horn of Africa.

Somalia: Medical care for the country that suffers most

The crisis is particularly dramatic in Somalia. 3.7 million people in Somalia are facing famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions alone. Some 6,000 families have found shelter in Badbado refugee camp in the Dharkenley District. On 24 July, SOS Children’s Villages set up a medical centre inside the camp that has treated close to 2,000 people, most of them children and pregnant women. More than half of them were children under the age of five.

SOS Hospital Mogadishu supplies SOS Medical Centre in refugee camp

Doctor treating a child
A doctor is treating a child - Photo: SOS Archives

The most common diseases are easily treated with the right medical supplies, but these are hard to come by. Fortunately, the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu, opened some 20 years ago, is able to supply the medical centre in the camp with all necessary supplies as well as doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and supporting staff. The SOS Hospital itself has expanded its Therapeutic Feeding Centre, which specialises in the treatment of especially severe cases of malnutrition, from 24 to 60 beds to handle the onslaught of children and mothers who are brought here more dead than alive.

Experience and trust ensure swift and efficient help

Overall, the experience and trust that SOS co-workers in East Africa have accumulated over the decades have been a blessing. Most of them have dealt with large-scale humanitarian crises before and know how to act under trying conditions. The long-standing relationships between SOS emergency relief teams and government authorities as well as other influential groups have allowed for swift and unbureaucratic help to reach those who needed help most urgently.

SOS emergency relief in East Africa to be expanded

Refugees in front of the SOS health post in the camp Badbado
Refugees in front of the SOS health post in the camp Badbado - Photo: SOS Archives
In the days and weeks to come, SOS Children’s Villages Somalia will set up more medical centres in other, equally crowded refugee camps. In Kenya and Ethiopia, preparations to transport large quantities of desperately needed supplies of food, water and medication to heavily affected areas are under way.

Droughts and famines becoming more frequent

Droughts are, unfortunately, not new to the Horn of Africa region. What is new, however, is the troubling frequency with which they are occurring. While in the past, severe crises occasioned by droughts & famines were experienced every decade or so, now we are witnessing droughts every two years.