Two mil­lion peo­ple forced into shanty towns

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By Roland Oliphant in Baidoa, So­ma­lia

Mar­dada Hus­sein stood out­side the bee­hive­shaped shel­ter where she sleeps with her eight chil­dren and counted ev­ery­thing she had lost. “Ten,” she said. “Ten months here. Three years since we had rain. Fif­teen cows, 10 cat­tle and 20 goats – all dead.”

The arith­metic of catas­tro­phe is writ­ten large over So­ma­lia’s in­te­rior. But the fa­tigue etched in Mrs Hus­sein’s face con­veys the strain of a dou­ble catas­tro­phe of war and drought that has forced mil­lions off the land.

For gen­er­a­tions, fam­i­lies like Mrs Hus­sein’s have lived off the land in the Bay re­gion, grow­ing sorghum, a tra­di­tional ce­real, and rais­ing cat­tle, camels and goats. Agri­cul­ture in this parched land­scape has al­ways re­lied heav­ily on twice-yearly rains to fill wa­ter holes and sus­tain the veg­e­ta­tion.

Four suc­ces­sive rain fail­ures since 2016 have wiped out herds and de­stroyed crops across the coun­try, driv­ing more than 2.1mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing Mrs Hus­sein’s fam­ily, into camps and shanty towns out­side the main cities. Hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions credit a mas­sive in­ter­na­tional ef­fort and the work of newly es­tab­lished fed­eral state gov­ern­ments here with avert­ing a seem­ingly in­evitable famine in 2017.

But al­though patchy rains broke the worst of the drought in au­tumn, the emer­gency is far from over.

The Famine Early Warn­ing Sys­tems Net­work, which mon­i­tors drought im­pacts, warned last week that 2.7mil­lion peo­ple still face food cri­sis and emer­gency in So­ma­lia this year. About 301,000 chil­dren are suf­fer­ing from acute mal­nu­tri­tion.

“We need to sus­tain this re­sponse at least through 2018 at the same level. But the con­cern among hu­man­i­tar­i­ans is that So­ma­lia fa­tigue will set in,” said Ibrahim Ab­dul­lah, emer­gency op­er­a­tions team leader for Care In­ter­na­tional in So­ma­lia.

“With a lot of com­pet­ing needs around the world it might be for­got­ten,” he added. “But So­ma­lia is still there and the needs are still high.”

The num­ber of in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple more than dou­bled from one mil­lion in the past year, and in Baidoa, the in­terim cap­i­tal of both the his­toric Bay re­gion and an en­tirely new fed­eral en­tity called South West State, the IDP (In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons) camps keep grow­ing. A quar­ter of a mil­lion peo­ple are now liv­ing in a sea of dome-shaped shel­ters, hand built out of twigs, tar­pau­lin and cor­ru­gated tin, on the town’s out­skirts. “Right now there are 315 IDP set­tle­ments,” said Ab­dul­lahi Ali Watur, the act­ing mayor of Baidoa. “In Novem­ber, there were 261. It’s just get­ting big­ger and big­ger.”

Mrs Hus­sein and her fam­ily left their home vil­lage of Aliyow Maryle, 28 miles away, af­ter the last of their an­i­mals died just un­der a year ago..

For the past 10 months they have lived like most oth­ers – crammed into a flimsy, hand-built shel­ter that of­fers shade from the sun but not much else in the way of pro­tec­tion.

A vast se­ries of in­ter­con­nect­ing camps strung out along the main high­way on the south-west edge of town are claus­tro­pho­bic, dis­ease-rid­den and in­se­cure – es­pe­cially for the women. A spate of sex­ual as­saults has been cur­tailed since po­lice were posted in­side the camps, said Lieu­tenant Farhia Ahmed Mo­heid, the com­man­der of the fed­eral po­lice’s gen­der crime unit in the town.

But she says gangs of men con­tinue to tar­get women when they head into the woods to gather fire­wood to sell in town – the only op­tion many have to gather enough money to buy rice or mil­let to feed the fam­ily.

The first stop for many new ar­rivals – es­pe­cially chil­dren and breast feed­ing moth­ers – is the city hos­pi­tal’s spe­cial­ist wing for treat­ing mal­nu­tri­tion and de­hy­dra­tion.

The fa­cil­ity has saved dozens of lives – but city au­thor­i­ties frankly ad­mit they lack the in­fra­struc­ture to cope with the sud­den ap­pear­ance of what is, in ef­fect, a new sub­urb that has dou­bled the city’s pop­u­la­tion.

“The peo­ple here are suf­fer­ing. There’s no food. There’s a lack of medicine. A lack of build­ing ma­te­ri­als,” said Maalim Hus­sein Adbdi Maalim, an IDP who has been liv­ing in the camp for a year and was elected by one sec­tion of the camp to be their ad­vo­cate to the city au­thor­i­ties and hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions.

A large relief oper­a­tion in­volv­ing the South West Re­gion gov­ern­ment, the United Na­tions, and sev­eral for­eign and lo­cal NGOs is un­der way, but it is se­ri­ously con­strained by coun­try­side and has warned hu­man­i­tar­ian groups not to op­er­ate in its ter­ri­tory. It has also taken to levy­ing taxes to fund its war against the So­mali Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and its African Union al­lies.

“They de­mand 400,000 So­mali shillings for a li­cence to farm your own land. If you can’t pay, you’re not al­lowed to farm,” said one man at the Baidoa camp who asked not to be named.

It is not just al-Shabaab who are look­ing for pay­ment. Many IDPs have set­tled on pri­vate land, lead­ing to dis­putes that in some case have spi­ralled into con­tro­ver­sial evic­tion op­er­a­tions con­demned by hu­man rights groups.

Hu­man Rights Watch said in a re­port pub­lished this week that So­mali se­cu­rity forces dis­man­tled or de­stroyed about 3,000 shel­ters in makeshift camps in Mo­gadishu be­tween De­cem­ber and Jan­uary.

A sep­a­rate assess­ment cited by the group said more than 5,000 huts had been de­stroyed and 38,000 peo­ple left home­less by the evic­tions. The So­mali fed­eral gov­ern­ment has promised an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Au­thor­i­ties in Baidoa told The Sun­day Tele­graph that no sim­i­lar mass evic­tions had oc­curred in that city. How­ever, one woman said fam­i­lies have been or­dered to pay $2 a month or face evic­tion – a sum most strug­gle to raise by sell­ing fire­wood.

The mat­ter of rent and evic­tions is a sen­si­tive one be­cause, as aid agen­cies and lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials here ac­knowl­edge, the mas­sive move­ment of peo­ple seen in the past two years is likely to be­come per­ma­nent.

“In prin­ci­ple, these peo­ple are only stay­ing un­til it is safe enough to go home,” said Mr Watur. “But they can’t go as long as al-Shabaab are still there.” Nor­mal­ity still seems a long way off. Al­though some rain fell last au­tumn, it be­gan late, ended early, and only fell hap­haz­ardly. The next rainy sea­son, in April and June, is also fore­cast to be be­low av­er­age. The river bed that runs through Baidoa re­mains bone dry, and the mud fields where Mrs Hus­sein and her chil­dren have built their shel­ter are baked hard and dusty.

“Un­less all this changes, there is no way we can go back,” said Mrs Hus­sein. “We’re stuck.”

‘Ten months here. Three years since we had rain. Fif­teen cows, 10 cat­tle, and 20 goats – all dead’

Mu­lan Is­sack’s fam­ily had 130 an­i­mals but they all died in the droughts, above; Salma Ab­di­rahma (nine months) is looked af­ter by her grand­mother at Baidoa Hos­pi­tal, left

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.