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Long-Term Development Focus of Post-Tsunami Aid in Somalia


Somali men walk past unidentified garbage washed on to the beach in Hafun in north eastern Somalia
Six months after Somalia was hit by the Asian tsunami, aid efforts have gone beyond the emergency phase and the focus is turning to long-term development. But the absence of a functioning government and continued insecurity is hindering reconstruction efforts.

Most homes, shops, and other buildings in Hafun are heaps of rubble, a painful reminder of the day six months ago when a giant wall of water changed the landscape of the bustling fishing town on Somalia's northeastern coast.

But slowly, painstakingly, the people of Hafun are moving forward in their post-tsunami world.

Assistant program officer Maulid Warfa of the World Food Program's (WFP) Somalia office was among the first to arrive on the scene after the December tsunami, and has visited the town several times since.

Mr. Warfa describes the current situation in Hafun.

"Houses are still destroyed,” he said. “You can hardly see any new buildings. People are still miserable. But, you know, that emergency phase of the situation is no longer there. There is small-scale business and trading is on at [a] very, very minimum scale. They still have here and there, you know, small, small restaurants and small, small shops. As far as the psychological problems are concerned, people seem to get used to the problem. They realized this has happened and they are dealing with it. But people are still very, very vulnerable."

The December 26 tsunami killed as many as 200 people, injured more than 150 and displaced thousands in Somalia, the African country hardest hit by the wave. In the days following the disaster, 30,000 people along the coast were in urgent need of food and other aid.

VOA visited Hafun in January and witnessed first-hand the rubble, broken boats, twisted metal, and other debris scattered along the beachfront where about 300 shops and businesses used to stand. Residents spoke with VOA about the loss of family members and friends.

The World Food Program, the United Nations' children's agency, and a local aid group called Shilcon were among the first to provide emergency services such as food and water distribution, shelter, sanitation, health care, and education.

Emergency officer Robert McCarthy, of the Somalia office of the U.N. children's agency, says the disaster has provided the unexpected opportunity to focus attention on long-term development.

"It also needs to be looked at in the context of Somalia as one of the world's poorest countries and the very tremendous difficulties people face in day-to-day survival,” he said. “So we have approached this as an opportunity to not only replace what was damaged or destroyed, but to try to help these communities to establish more of a conducive level of meeting their daily needs."

Mr. McCarthy says only 60 children attended Hafun primary school before the tsunami. Enrollment is now around 250.

He explains that a new health center is under construction and health care workers, teachers and other professionals are receiving proper training and support so that they can deliver what he calls standard quality services.

Mr. McCarthy says all of Hafun's children are being immunized, and pregnant women have access to care.

But challenges remain. Mr. McCarthy says the quality of the town's water supply is precarious and as many as 500 families are still living in temporary shelters, primarily made of plastic sheeting and branches.

The World Food Program's Mr. Warfa says that Somali's post-tsunami recovery is slow compared to other affected areas of the world because of the absence of a fully functioning government.

"The role of the government is what is not there,” he said. “The World Food Program is not going to feed these people forever, these people need to stand by themselves. They need their boats to do their fishing, they need to get their fishing gear, they need to get their houses repaired, they need to get all those other services that are beyond WFP's capacity and, in which, in the absence of effective government, will continue [to] hamper the livelihood of the people."

Somalia has been without a central government since leader Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Militias loyal to factional leaders have been battling for control over parts of the country.

A two-year Somali peace process in Kenya resulted in the formation of a transitional government late last year.

A consultant for the Ministry of Environment and Disasters Management, Abdo Bahajj, tells VOA that unlike international aid agencies, the new government has no resources to deal with the crisis and government employees cannot travel to certain affected parts of the country due to insecurity.

"We are trying to help but our help is limited. We cannot help the way the world is going. Still, we have insecurity in the southern part," he explained.

Insecurity is also a problem for aid workers. In the early days in particular, some shipments of emergency supplies were halted in certain parts of the country due to fighting or the threat of attack by militiamen.

The activities of the U.N. children's agency were suspended in Hafun for several weeks recently, when its Boosaaso office closed down at the end of May, following death threats against one of its staff members. The office has since re-opened.

The agency's Mr. McCarthy reiterates the importance of political stability and security in post-tsunami development.

"The cooperation of the authorities remains a cornerstone to what we can do in Somalia and in Hafun,” he said. “The movement toward the establishment of the transitional federal government is a very important step. While we are looking at addressing the consequences of the tsunami, a clear priority is to help Somalia get on its feet to move towards real development and start overcoming so many of these problems that we have seen that place children at greater risk since the civil war in the early 1990s."

Hopes are high in Hafun that the new Somali government will bring the peace and stability needed for reconstruction and beyond.

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