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Somalia Cleans Up After the Tsunami

In Africa, Somalia was hardest hit by the tsunami, killing as many as 200 people, injuring more than 150, and displacing thousands. Some 30,000 people are in urgent need of food and other aid. Workers are in the northeastern town of Hafun and are faced with big challenges in this once booming fishing village.

World Food Program, Somalia's Maulid Warfa, has worked under many difficult circumstances. But nothing could prepare the assistant program officer for what he experienced when he arrived in Hafun shortly after the tsunami hit the once bustling town.

"Honestly speaking, when I first got in here, I couldn't believe - it was emotional,” he said. “The whole town was stinking of rotten food, rotten fish, rotten clothes, rotten stuff. And there were flies all over. Many of the houses have been destroyed, walls collapsed - it's a scene of devastation. It was scary."

The waves that battered Hafun in late December claimed 19 lives, with more than 100 still missing and virtually all of the town's businesses, houses, and fishing gear wiped out.

Most of the town's pre-tsunami population of 4,800 people had fled to the nearby hills when Mr. Warfa, his colleagues at the United Nations' children's agency, and a local group called Shilcon arrived on the scene.

Mr. Warfa and the other aid workers realized the combination of rotten food, contamination of Hafun's water supply by the seawater, and cold winds on the surrounding hills where most people fled could lead to massive health problems if not addressed.

Already, the health of the people of Hafun, who are slowly filtering back to the town and living in makeshift shelters, has declined because of these and other factors.

Fatima Mohamed Ali is head nurse at Hafun's clinic, staffed by her and several volunteers. She says some 200 people visit the clinic each day, up from about 20 from before the disaster.

She describes the most common symptoms and diseases the clinic has encountered since the tsunami.

Ms. Ali says she sees many people who have skin abrasions and infections, glaucoma and other eye infections, diarrhea, dysentery, swollen feet, asthma, and bronchitis.

Periodically, the clinic gets some supplies and visits from doctors and nurses from a medical association in the port city of Bossaso, about a difficult day's drive from Hafun.

But, says Ms. Ali, the clinic is still badly in need of medicines, particularly to treat bronchitis, asthma, malnutrition, and diarrhea.

UNICEF-Somalia's education officer, Abdirisak Mohamed Ali, says there is an even greater problem on the horizon that aid workers are battling to avoid.

"What we are trying is, actually, to avoid [a] cholera outbreak,” he explained. “And that's why we are putting [up] 30 toilets. We are trucking water from 92 kilometers every day, and we are putting about 10 [water] tanks. We hope before we put [in] the water system that we can avoid the outbreak of cholera in this area."

Mr. Ali said UNICEF is also immunizing women and children against tetanus, diphtheria, and measles. He says there is still not enough clean water for the people of Hafun.

Hafun's primary school, which has about 90 students and three teachers, was closed for several weeks after the tsunami because some of the townspeople lived there after their homes were destroyed.

Mr. Ali said the school has recently re-opened.

"When I came here, we have [had] started negotiating with the people and telling them, OK, education is psycho-social emotional recovery for the children, so let's restart the education," he said.

Teachers told VOA the children are still recovering from the trauma of losing their homes and possessions and, in some cases, family members. UNICEF is providing books and other school supplies swept away by the waves.

There are efforts under way to get rid of the evidence of the ocean's fury. Amongst the rubble and debris, members of the Somali Red Crescent Society can be seen shoveling, spraying, and carrying material away.

But aid workers and towns people are aware that the most difficult rehabilitation will need to take place in the minds and hearts of the people of Hafun as they start rebuilding their lives from ground zero.