August 24 2011

East Africa: Survival is all that counts

22/08/2011 - SOS Children's Villages' relief work in the drought areas of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya is running at full throttle. Nevertheless, the worst is yet to come for East Africans suffering from the famine. For hundreds of thousands of children, it is a matter of life and death.

Photo: Jens Honoré
Doctors are fighting for the life of a baby in Mogadishu - Photo: Jens Honoré
Help amidst the fighting

In Somalia more than 250 local SOS co-workers are currently helping people who have been severely affected by the drought. In the refugee camp of Badbado close to Mogadishu, SOS Children's Villages has set up a medical centre, where some 250 people come to seek help every day. One hundred of them are children. SOS Children's Villages treats sick children and mothers at the refugee camp Baidoa, as well. Children and mothers with serious diseases are brought to the larger and better-equipped SOS Clinic in Mogadishu which also has a specialised nutrition ward for severely undernourished children. Nevertheless, the doctors sometimes have no choice but to give up the fight for the life of a young child. SOS Children's Villages also hands out food vouchers and food products made especially for undernourished children.

In Somalia, getting help to the endangered population is rendered difficult by conflicts that flare up again and again. On 16 August most of the staff and patients had to evacuate the hospital for their own safety as Somali government troops fought al-Shabaab members in the vicinity of the clinic. Since operations have picked up again, the clinic is experiencing a massive crush of incoming patients. Many who fled the fighting in the capital have returned.
The 90 children who live in the SOS Children's Village in Mogadishu also had to be brought to safety last week. Until the situation in Mogadishu stabilises, they are staying in temporary shelters in the Afgoye corridor. A military commandant has announced that government troops will seize full control of the entire area around the SOS Children's Village by the end of August.

Photo: Nicole Nassar
In many parts of Ethiopia, bread is a rarity - Photo: Nicole Nassar
Situation in southern Ethiopia alarming

In Ethiopia, SOS Children's Villages is focusing on the southern region around the town of Gode, including neighbouring villages and families from Somalia who have come here seeking safety from the fighting and famine. The main task is the distribution of food, providing medical care and access to clean water. SOS Children's Villages is planning to give emergency support to some 3,650 families, around 20,000 people overall. In Gode, there is an SOS Children's Village and an SOS Clinic that treats some 15,000 women and children every year. The staff of these programmes is running the emergency relief work as well.

The situation in and around Gode is critical. Strong winds whirl up sand and dust, and there is still no sign of rain. The ground is cracked, irrigation systems are dry and animals have nothing to feed on. Only the Shebelle River still carries water. The people, usually self-sufficient farmers, have no fuel for their water pumps and are forced to abandon their fields. The children of the area are in bad physical condition: the effects of chronic undernourishment are clearly visible and they are suffering under the dismal hygienic conditions.

The situation is particularly bad in the small community of Morudile, located some 150 kilometres south of Gode (Adadile Woreda in the Gode Zone). Somali refugees who reach Morudile have walked for 85 kilometres, are very weak and undernourished. Some 1,800 families have been registered so far, but more refugees are arriving every day. To the population of Morudile, themselves victims of the drought, this means that they must now handle an additional onslaught of mouths to feed. Save the Children UK and the NGO Merlin are providing medical care and emergency supplies, but the food supply and lack of adequate shelters remain critical. SOS teams have registered the worst-hit families together with Save the Children UK and local authorities and will provide 1,000 families - 600 of which are refugee families - with food.

The local government has appealed once more to the SOS Children's Village in Gode, this time to help 400 families of pastoral drop-outs 16 kilometres from Gode. SOS Children's Villages will provide basic necessities to these families as well.

Photo: SOS Archives
A truck is loaded with food supplies for Marsabit - Photo: SOS Archives
Kenya: Food and water for school children and families

In Kenya, SOS Children's Villages' relief efforts are concentrating on the region of Marsabit. SOS co-workers are distributing warm meals and drinking water to 3,100 pupils from five schools every day. Even though it's the holidays, local teachers are giving lessons so that the children can attend the regular food distributions.

At the same time, SOS Children's Villages is providing some 2,000 families from five villages - around 16,000 children and adults - with water and food through a voucher system. Special food and medicine for severely undernourished children will be made available in cooperation with local medical centres. SOS Children's Villages is also planning to expand the help to include secondary schools and further communities.
Photo: SOS Archives
A girl from Marsabit - Photo: SOS Archives
SOS Children's Villages had been planning to open new programmes in Marsabit long before the threat of a famine became evident. A family support programme was scheduled to begin toward the end of 2011. The staff that was already on the ground for this reason as well as already existing partnerships made it possible to help swiftly in this emergency.