CONTINUING OUR SERIES on the famine currently affecting the horn of Africa, I put some questions to SandraNgwena, who spent the last month working on the Horn of Africa crisis.
You’re currently on the ground. Can you please tell us exactly where you are, how you got there, and what’s happening around you at the moment?
I worked in Ethiopia and Kenya supporting teams that were working on the ground in Somalia and Ethiopia. The feedback from the people in Mogadishu and other parts of South Central Somalia, like Baidoa and Bakool is that with the withdrawal of Al Shabab from Mogadishu, there has been an increasing influx of aid into the city but there is still a long way to go.
Estimates are that only 30% of the required aid has been received. In terms of security, visitors still need to have armed escorts. There are also still hundreds of displaced people arriving in Mogadishu every day, especially since word has begun to spread that aid is available. The camps are overflowing and as a consequence, there are now people setting up outside the actual camp areas. This is problematic because they remain unregistered and it becomes difficult for them to get assistance.
As a case in point, members of our team witnessed two women, who had travelled from God only knows how far, gave birth outside one of the camps, without any access to food, medical or water supplies.
Aid is coming but it is not enough. There is also now an increased focus on Mogadishu, which is good but there are other regions in South-central Somalia — such as Bay and Bakool — which have also been hit by famine, yet not enough aid is getting there because people are reluctant to provide aid to Al-Shabab-controlled areas, since it is hard for them to go and visit safely.
Islamic Relief has people working in these regions and their feedback has been that they are getting no resistance from Al-Shabab at all and the only thing preventing them from doing more is limited resources.
What are the current challenges on the ground?
The main challenge right now is limited resources, with over 3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; there is still a long way to go. This figure also speaks only to Somalia, never mind the affected people in Ethiopia and Kenya. It is important to remember that whilst South Central Somalia is the worst hit, this is very much a regional crisis.
People are concerned about the famine but also feel helpless. With reports of logistical problems, some feel their aid may be of no use or never arrive where it is needed. Is this true? What would you suggest is the best way to help out at this time?
My perspective is that the logistical problems are not as bad as was feared.
What aid there is, is getting to the people who need it. It is just a question of how much aid we have. In terms of how people can best help, I think (and this is my personal, but I would like to think, somewhat informed, opinion) that it would be most effective to donate to organizations that have a local presence in Somalia or at least have local implementing partners.
Some people have wanted to send bottled water and to ship food like tinned meat from overseas. The problem with these initiatives is that the cost of bottled water is excessive. Nevermind the shipping costs vs. how many people it would help if the water was bought locally. The potential difference is huge.
Furthermore, it can take months to ship food items, which is too long when people need food today. This is why I would direct people to donate to organizations with local partners or a local presence. They are able to source the necessary food and non-food items locally, and are a much better bet. So I guess, the simply answer is do a bit of reading, find out who is doing good work, and decide from there.
More information on other humanitarian organisations involved in the relief effort can be found here.