Ognjen Radosavljevic, International Medical Corps’ Global Operations Specialist, writes about his recent trip to Somaliland.
Somaliland, the disputed territory of northern Somalia, is something of a discreet success story. Following its self-declared independence from Somalia in 1991 it has its own de facto parliament, capital, flag, currency, a university and multiparty elections. As a result, Somaliland is viewed as an area in development. But droughts are causing an acute humanitarian emergency.
In Sool, one of the areas worst hit by drought, International Medical Corps, working closely with local authorities and community leaders, is perfectly placed to deal with the crisis through our existing nutrition programs.
Due to the threat of violent disputes among rival clans it is too dangerous for our staff to spend the night in Sool. International Medical Corps’ nutrition workers are based in Burao and travel to and from our projects daily.
Sanaag, to the north of Sool, is also extremely remote. With funding from the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), International Medical Corps has been running programs in nutrition and mother/child health care and recently completed three health centers around Erigavo, Sanaag’s biggest town. In addition, we are running programs, building water and sanitation facilities and training local community workers to improve hygiene practices. International Medical Corps’ policy of training locals is particularly important in Sanaag. Erigavo is a bumpy two-day drive from the capital Hargeysa and it is difficult to recruit government health care professionals to the region. Educating communities in Sanaag also encourages locals to use our services.
While the communities in Sool and Sanaag are mostly pastoral, the farming communities in Woqooyi Galbeed have a different range of problems. In the villages around the town of Gebiley I witnessed first hand how International Medical Corps’ food security program can regulate food supply and negate shortages like those caused by the current drought.
If the seasonal rains fail, as they did from October to December causing the current drought throughout Somalia and parts of Somaliland, farming communities are entirely dependent on whether surplus food has been effectively stored. In Somaliland International Medical Corps is solving the problem by providing silos for grain. We are not only producing and distributing the silos, but also training local artisans in production to make a lasting investment in the communities.
The unique challenge south-central Somalia poses to International Medical Corps and other aid agencies was brought sharply into focus by the plea of Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed recently. Following his briefing with the UN Security Council he said: “Nearly 2.5 million are on the verge of starvation. Unless we have immediate support – international support – definitely there will be a catastrophic situation in Somalia.”
For the first time in my professional career I find myself unable to travel to large parts of a country where we are operational. It’s simply too dangerous.
However, International Medical Corps has had a presence in Somalia since 1991 and we are currently overseeing operations from Nairobi, Kenya, as we continue to strive to improve lives throughout the country.
Working with local staff and partners, International Medical Corps has begun assessments in north-east Somalia, in the Puntland region and province of Mudug. We hope by March to have new projects based in Galcayo, which could comprise of primary health care, nutrition, water, sanitation and food security.
Despite the challenges, International Medical Corps will continue emergency operations to address the current drought crisis and lobby for funding to build on essential disaster prevention operations throughout the country.