The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is stepping up efforts to provide food relief to Somalia. This, after a report by the United Nations that the food crisis there is worsening.
Somalia has been in a drought for the past three growing seasons. That, combined with land degradation and civil conflict, has put nearly two million people in need of emergency food relief. An additional 400,000 internally displaced are also said to be at risk.
Nicole Engelbrecht is the regional media delegate for the ICRC in Nairobi. She told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that this week the agency began a major distribution of food to 120,000 people in Gedo, Bay and Bekool regions in Somalia’s south, as well as to those affected in areas of Ethiopia’s southern Somali Regional State.
Each family will receive a two-month supply of beans, vegetable oil, water and maize. There’s enough food, she said, to last until the next rainy season, which is expected in two months, or until the next harvest in July.
The ICRC is also having water trucked in for more than 80,000 people; it’s helping rehabilitate bore holes, hand-dug wells and rainwater catchments in affected communities. Longer-term projects, like one taking place from Puntland to lower Juba, help stimulate the local economy: “People are taught to clean the rain water catchments from the earth that is flooded into [them]. [The ICRC pays people to do such water projects and provides them with] pick-axes, crowbars, bucket, and sandbags. They receive a certain amount of money per day with which they can then nourish their families. If you [consider] that we have about 100 such projects planned this year and about 100 people work on each [one], then that [means] one thousand families that can live off these projects.”
In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization says the drought could continue for up to next rainy season or harvest. Engelbrecht says the ICRC is ready for the effort.
However, the relief workers do face a number of challenges: Somalia has the highest number of weapon-wounded casualties in the Africa, and competition for water is so fierce that children are sometimes attacked by thirsty animals at the wells and boreholes. Engelbrecht says a lack of public health services means that people who suffer from the consequences of drought often can also not be treated.
Meanwhile, this week, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Maxwell Gaylard, warned that delivery of food convoys and other forms of relief could be impeded if non-governmental organizations and local officials do not work together to prevent, for example, attacks by uncontrolled militiamen and by what he called “opportunists.”
However, Engelbrecht says so far, the ICRC has not experienced such incidents. She says the organization works with a partner, the Somalia Red Crescent Society, which works closely with local people and political leaders to ensure security.
In December, the UN launched a $174 million appeal to address Somalia’s humanitarian needs. Officials said another appeal would be considered if necessary.