UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the humanitarian situation in Somalia as ‘a nightmare.’ Half the country’s population needs aid according to Guterres who was making his first trip to the region.
Somalia’s drought has already claimed the lives of 110 people and the shortage of safe drinking water has caused a cholera outbreak in Baidoa, southwestern Somalia. DW spoke to children’s rights activist Joachim Rahmann of the NGO Save the Children who recently returned from a visit to Somalia’s Puntland region.
DW: How big a problem is food security in Puntland?
Joachim Rahmann: Food security in all parts of Somalia is currently a grave problem. Save the Children has been working in the country for several years, actually before the current drought. One has to note that the current drought started in 2015 as a result of four consecutive below or average rainy seasons. What we are now seeing is a country that is largely dependent on livestock in a very severe crisis. As I said, this affects all of the country. During our visit, we observed families which previously had 200 goats and were dependent on these livestock but now their entire herds have died. People now depend on international assistance to prevent further deaths.
What are organizations like Save the Children doing to ensure that the fatalities are kept to a minimum?
Save the Children is focusing on really big issues that we can deal with in the current crisis. First of all, we are providing food, cash and fodder for animals. This is to stabilize the economic situation through the assistance to the herds but especially the situation for the families and also for children. We also track water for families that don’t have access to safe drinking water anymore. We are also hiring local health workers to set up mobile clinics that can go to more rural areas where people don’t normally have access to healthcare, and where people are at risk of dying either from hunger or water-borne diseases like diarrhea like was the case with the deaths witnessed.
What are conditions like elsewhere on the Horn of Africa?
Other countries in the region like Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan are also very heavily affected by the drought. In Kenya and Ethiopia, we see that there are widespread government responses, but even those very effective government responses are not sufficient and international organizations like Save the Children have to step in. Both in Somalia as well other countries I have mentioned, our capacity to help people is currently much higher than the funding that allows us to respond.
Our teams on the ground are prepared, are ready, and we are in a position to prevent a situation like in 2011, where just in Somalia, 250,000 people died due to hunger. We can prevent such a situation, we have the knowledge, we have a team in place but we are still lacking international funding to help people to a scale where we can prevent such deaths.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met the Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on what he described as an emergency visit to highlight the food crisis. What sort of expectations does your organization attach to high-level visits like these?
We welcome such visits because the international profile of the crisis is still not as high as it should be. Just in Somalia alone, more than 6 million people are in a food security crisis and are dependent on external assistance. This is a crisis that we [Save the Children] internally have it at the highest category for crises. Globally, only Syria is in the same category. Such visits like that of the UN Secretary General are very important to bring this crisis to the international scene and to give it the attention it deserves.
Secondly, our expectation is to see more funding to the country. Somalia, as the Somali president has declared, is not in a position to prevent deaths in the country. It depends on the international community and on more funding. It’s not just the UN but also donor governments that have to step up to provide more funding to the region and to make sure that the capacity of the organizations present in the country actually translates into aid for the people.
Joachim Rahmann is a children’s rights activist for the UK-based organization Save the Children
Interview: Mark Caldwell