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Somalia: responding to a triple calamity

Read Catherine’s latest blog posts about meeting the victims of the flooding.

The rains have started. In a country parched with collective thirst, where thousands of people and livestock have died in the drought, you would think that this is the best news we could hear.

And the Somalia office is a hive of activity – but not because we’re all celebrating.

While the rain will be welcome in many areas across the region, in Mogadishu we’re urgently mounting another response – to the rains and the subsequent flooding.

Triple calamity

The walls of our office were already covered with maps of Somalia and access routes. Our team leader is surviving on a diet of cigarettes, and I’m on my fourth cup of coffee.

Everyone is knackered. It’s a triple calamity – drought, then flooding, on top of the seemingly endless warfare.

And it’s the people in the camps that are teetering on the edge of survival.

Camps

The camps in Mogadishu are known as IDP camps – internally displaced persons. These people have fled their homes, fearing for their safety or desperate to find something to eat, or, most worryingly – both.

The families come to Mogadishu, hoping to find something – a little food, some clean water, a safe place to survive.

The good land there is already taken – there are buildings, homes, makeshift shops. There is other land nearby, less desirable land, but that’s taken too – by those that can’t afford the buildings, homes and shops.

Prone to flooding

The only space left to live is where no-one else wants to. It could be lowland and prone to flooding, or it could be on the outskirts of a settlement and dangerous.

Or it could be all of the above – like Sigale camp. But you’re desperate, so it will have to do.

Now the rains have come, and they’ve created a flash food through the camp. It’s a swirling torrent of mud and water, and worse.

Overflowing latrines

Latrines have overflowed, and everything is dirty. Your children are still playing, because they are children, but they are playing in filthy water that will make them sick.

You have nowhere to wash your hands, make food, wash your clothes. It’s dangerous and it’s undignified. And it will happen for a month – because that’s how long the rainy season lasts here.

It’s only a matter of time before waterborne diseases spread and the death toll rises. It’s fertile ground for it – wet, filthy and overcrowded.

Disease

Children are already weak from lack of food, susceptible to disease. There are things that we can do – try and divert the flow of water, help to drain it away, bring in huge medical supplies to respond to disease when the inevitable occurs.

All the while continuing to respond to the food crisis which has left so many people close to death across Somalia, struggling to deliver life-saving aid in a city which has been labelled the “one of the most dangerous places on earth”.

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