Somalia: people on the move in unseen proportions

July 21, 2011

Somalia: people on the move in unseen proportions © Magnus Hallgren

While more than 2000 Somalis cross the borders into Kenya and Ethiopia every day in search of assistance, in Somalia itself the movement of people desperately seeking food and medical help is also taking unseen proportions. MSF teams in Somalia are dealing with fast-rising numbers of displaced families that come over great distances to reach MSF’s hospitals and therapeutic feeding centers.

Luul Sankus, a mother of two, walked with her husband and children for more than 160 kms to reach the village of Hurufle in the Juba Valley.

“I haven’t seen our home region for over nine months now. We are famers and when the rains failed and nothing was left for us Where we come from. My husband and two of our kids walked all the way to Hurufle, where we now live as displaced people. When we came to Hurufle, our son fell ill: there was no treatment, no shelter and no food. I was advised that I should take him to the MSF hospital in Marere. That’s why I am here.”

What characterizes this crisis is that people are now leaving the villages and rural areas en masse because crops have failed and livestock are dying.

“Displacement is nothing new to Somalis,” says Operations Manager, Joe Belliveau. “For the past few years hundreds of thousands have fled the violence in Mogadishu and elsewhere. What is new is that people are now fleeing the rural areas simply because they have no more food to eat.”

Camps for the displaced are popping up inside Somalia wherever people feel they have a better chance of getting help. For example, in the village of Jilib in Lower Juba Valley, around 5000 people have spontaneously settled in a camp in the hope of receiving support from the community, the authorities or MSF.

MSF is currently running nine medical-nutritional programs in South-Central Somalia. These programs, most of them in territories controlled by the Al-Shabaab, together with MSF’s three large programs in the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia conduct thousands of medical consultations daily and currently treat over 10,000 severely malnourished children.

“In several parts of Somalia, this is the worst situation we’ve seen in the past decade,” said Mr Belliveau. “Normal coping mechanisms are exhausted and many people have reached their limits. MSF is prepared to do more but to do so we need certain restrictions to be lifted. If MSF is allowed to send in international technical experts to work alongside our more than 1000 Somali staff and we are permitted to send in supply flights with therapeutic feeding and other medicines, then we can scale up further.”

MSF has worked continuously in Somalia since 1991 and currently provides free medical care in eight regions of southern Somalia. Over 1,400 Somali staff, supported by approximately 100 staff in Nairobi, provide free primary healthcare, malnutrition treatment, health care and support to displaced people, surgery, water and relief supply distributions. MSF does not accept any government funding for its projects in Somalia, all its funding comes from private donors.

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