RAS KAMBONI — In this Somali seaside village, the former headquarters of insurgent group al-Shabab is being converted into a hospital.
Last October, the Kenyan military and a regional militia cleared the village of the militants. But, despite the stability, humanitarian aid has been slow to arrive.
Three-year-old Hodan arrived with her grandparents the afternoon the hospital operating room opened. They traveled from Bur Gabo, a town 60 kilometers north of Ras Kamboni.
Small towns such as Ras Kamboni in the Lower Juba region of Somalia have had almost no access to clean water, education or health care for over two decades.
Last week, the first international assistance finally arrived. Dr. Omar Saleh, a surgeon and the humanitarian action coordinator with the World Health Organization-Somalia, led a mission to establish an operating room and train local health workers.
A nurse prepares the operating table for surgery, Ras Kamboni, Somalia, July 6, 2012. (VOA - R. Gogineni)
Hodan suffered a congenital anomaly that would eventually affect her fertility. Dr. Omar successfully performed corrective surgery.
Hodan’s grandfather is grateful. He said,"It was very difficult for us to go to Kismayo, which is very far from us, so that now this clinic has opened in our area, we have already noticed the benefits."
Before, those in need of medical treatment had to make the expensive and dangerous journey to Kismayo, Mogadishu, or across the border into Kenya.
In the past, Ras Kamboni served as a training center for al-Qaida and al-Shabab militants. Last October, the Kenyan Defense Forces and the Ras Kamboni Brigade - a regional Somali militia - took control of the town. Residents expected humanitarian aid to soon follow.
Until now, a Somali aid group called AFREC has been the only humanitarian agency operating in Ras Kamboni.
An elder in the village addressed the WHO team upon arrival. he said, "When we liberated this area from the enemy we expected the international community to do something. They didn't respond the way we wanted, because the last nine months the security was OK."
"AFREC responded within one month, they have done a great job and still they continue," he said. "But when it comes to the need of this community, it is bigger than their capacity. Where are the other people, that is the question we ask ourselves."
Despite the stability of Ras Kamboni, the new field hospital faces operational challenges.
Dr. Saleh waits for a container to arrive from Mogadishu with the rest of the emergency room kit, and with equipment and medications to sustain the new field hospital after he leaves.
A patient rests after his operation, Ras Kamboni, Somalia, July 5, 2012. (VOA - R. Gogineni)
He received a call between operations. The humanitarian convoy delivering the container has been stopped by an enemy militia. One driver and passenger have been killed.
"About 60 trucks stopped by militia in El Waq… Can you hear me?" Omar asked. "So now it’s stuck in El Waq, yeah? OK, tell them to stay there, there is no rush. They are going to miss me anyhow. Play it safe."
Humanitarian convoys must pass through al-Shabab-occupied territory to reach Ras Kamboni or other towns now controlled by Kenyan forces and regional militia. These are islands of security, stable for now but cut off from both the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and the international community.