A Day in the life: Working in drought-hit Somalia
Aug 10, 2017
In the midst of a horrific drought, over 6.7 million people are in need of food and water in Somalia. The numbers of severely malnourished children are staggering at 1.4 million. Some 40,000 of them have dropped out of school, as the most vulnerable families often send their children to search for water or migrate to towns in search of work. The drought has caused alarming levels of internal displacement with over 739,000 people displaced. Camps are becoming overpopulated, putting women and girls at higher risk of sexual violence.
People in Somalia are struggling with multiple health problems, ranging from measles, to acute malnutrition, to cholera (acute watery diarrhea – the deadliest of them all). Almost 50,000 cases of suspected cholera cases were reported from the beginning of the year. More than 600 people have died. Contaminated water sources are the main cause for contraction. CARE is providing cholera treatment kits in areas of Somalia where the highest number of cases are being reported. In efforts to prevent the spread of cholera, CARE has reached over 250,000 people with clean water, hygiene education and water purification tablets.
Amrea Shire, CARE’s Emergency Program Manager in Somalia, gives an insight into what it’s like working in a country devastated by the current drought.
My days never look the same. The only consistency to be found in my daily routine is that I spend a lot of my time traveling as CARE’s Emergency Program Manager, I go to different sites where our work takes place to organize field distributions, manage cash-for-work activities or verify beneficiary lists. My days start off early in the morning, since most of our work happens in remote areas. I try to eat something small before heading out as the sun rises.
On a recent mission, I visited 35 villages in the Sool region, one of the most drought-affected areas in Somalia. CARE is working together with the Government to identify the most vulnerable households that should receive food vouchers and cash assistance. This is a tough job. So many people are in need of assistance, yet we don’t have the resources to assist everyone. This is why I have to make sure we follow the criteria we have set out and prioritize the most vulnerable. How big is the family? How many of them are children? Are there any elderly people in the household or pregnant and lactating women? Do the families have any other means of support? These are all things I need to consider, when I speak to people at the screening site.
Once I get to the field location, my real work starts. My phone starts ringing – it's one of the community leaders in a different village. He tells me that one of the women in his settlement needs immediate support for her 18-month-old child, Abdi. The little boy was already suffering from malnutrition and then started having diarrhea. Given that water was so scarce, the family consumed whatever water they could find, and it seems it may have been contaminated. I refer them to a nutrition centre for women and children run by CARE in the nearest town of Bosaso. Usually, our health workers would first weigh Abdi, then measure his height and the circumference of his arm, which would tell them the level of his malnutrition. Anything under 11 centimeters is considered severely malnourished. I was later told Abdi’s arm measured at under 10. The health workers sent his mother Nasteexo home with a week’s supply of Plumpy Nut (a peanut-based supplement) for both Abdi and his sister Yasmin, who was also malnourished. They were then told to come back to the centre weekly to monitor the children’s progress and get another week’s supply of Plumpy Nut.
In some of the most affected villages, CARE has multiple projects running simultaneously. And multiple projects usually means multitasking for me. While organizing a food distribution, I usually also check up on our existing activities, one of which is the cash-for-work project. A few weeks ago, we worked with a community in the Ainabo displacement camp, to determine how people can restart their livelihoods. Participants of the project receive cash in exchange for flexible working hours cleaning a waterhole so that rainwater can be preserved. Not only does this help their communities, it also makes them feel needed and they can contribute to their own wellbeing.
It is lunch time but I usually only eat once I’m back in the guest house or the office. At one of the water points that CARE rehabilitated when most of the shallow wells dried up, I meet a mother from the nearby displacement camp. After losing all of her livestock and resources, she and her children used to walk for over an hour and a half each day to fetch water from a shallow well before she moved to the displacement camp. That water turned out to be contaminated. Three of her children died from cholera.
“The drought destroyed everything. I’m afraid it will also take my remaining children,” she told me.
These stories hit me hard and stay with me for a long time. But they also serve as a reminder of why I do my job, of why I need to work, and why I need to support people in my community.
I try to head back to the guesthouse or office before it gets dark. Although the security situation in Somaliland – an autonomous and self-declared state in Somalia – is better than in the rest of the country, I still have to be careful. Attacks on aid workers can happen at any point and I am aware of that.
My work day is still not over. Once I reach the guesthouse, I check my email and see if there are any pending issues, such as reports to write or meetings to attend in the coming days. If my colleagues are there, I try to have dinner with them. It gives me a chance to speak about the things I observed and also about things that are not work related at all. Sometimes we watch TV together. It helps me unwind.
I usually fall into bed, tired and exhausted. Sometimes I find it hard to sleep. What if the parents I met lost all their children? Who will support everyone? These are some of the questions that haunt me. On other days, I sleep quite peacefully, knowing that the work I did today made a difference. I set my alarm to 6:00am again and I can’t wait for the next day to start again.