Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Braving Mogadishu to Provide Medical Aid to Somalia: Canadian and Saudi Arabian Teams

Somalis from the south of the country carry their belongings as they arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

As described in a previous post, Ramadan and the 2011 Somalia Famine: A Great Need for Zakat, Sadaqa, Charity; A Reluctant Response, and in this article, Nations Fall Short in Helping 12.4M Africans in Drought-Caused Famine, aid to Somalia has been insufficient and delayed, but there is reason for optimism as the world steps up its contributions through national governmental contributions, NGOs, and specifically Muslim ones organizing coordinated relief.

The United States has been the biggest international donor to famine relief efforts, with about $580 million in aid this year. Britain is the second-biggest donor at $205 million, followed by Japan and Australia. Saudi Arabia is next at $60 million. It is the biggest donor from the Muslim world.

While there is no doubt there is some politicking behind who is contributing and why, as the excellent article Turkey to raise Africa profile with Somalia engagement describes with reference to Turkey in particular, that stands second, in my opinion, behind a relief effort to keep Somalis alive long enough to sort out the political ramifications later. Also cause for optimism, UN and African troops are ensuring aid gets through (Somalia security improving but aid still urgent: UN; South Sudan offers Somalia African Union troops; Uganda to send 2000 more troops to Somalia) even though there have been some setbacks Mogadishu clashes prompt doctors, children to flee hospital.

I was impressed with the article immediately below, as it provides a view of contemporary life in Mogadishu from the eyes of a woman who lived there until age 12 and returned as part of an aid team from Canada. I was also struck by the plea from the locals that the aid team doesn't just do a "piece of work" as some like to call it, and then leave without providing adequate follow-up support--as happens all too often and explains the later collapse of emergency efforts instead of their becoming more permanent and stabilizing ongoing institutions. Finally, I was heartened by the news that a Saudi team will be providing the ongoing aid effort with a substantive contribution in time, money, and expertise.

Somalian born, Hodan Ali stands outside the Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, where she works as a nurse, after a 12 hour shift on Aug 16, 2011. Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail

Hamilton nurse returns to Somalia to help refugees
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011 9:20PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011 9:24PM EDT

Hodan Ali didn’t have time to give thought to her surroundings as hundreds of refugees waited in line for treatment last week at the clinic in the aging Mogadishu building where her small medical team had set up shop.

But there was something familiar about the place to the 34-year-old nurse from Hamilton, Ont. There was a picture on an inside wall that she had seen before.

And then, just as she and the two doctors from Canada whom she had accompanied on an aid mission were leaving, it dawned on her: This was her old primary school.

Ms. Ali and her family had come to Canada from Somalia as refugees when she was 12 years old.

“I didn’t recognize the whole area because it was just total destruction,” she said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “All of the major landmarks have been destroyed. It’s a war zone in every sense of the word.”

Ms. Ali’s three-person team was sent to Mogadishu by Islamic Relief Canada, part of the biggest Muslim charitable organization in the world and one of very few aid agencies working inside Somalia where millions have been displaced by drought and famine.

She was born in the Banaadir hospital where they helped some of the most critically ill patients in a country that is one of the most dangerous and desperate places on earth.

Ms. Ali is back home now, having been on the ground in Somalia for about a week. But she remains anxious about the precarious state of her homeland and the toll the drought is predicted to take as summer turns to fall.

“Inside Somalia you can’t even put it into words, how bad it is in terms of access to food and medical supplies and medical staff,” she said. “Because of the situation, international agencies are not willing to go. So you have a million people facing starvation and dying of basic illnesses.”

Ms. Ali’s return to the city of her childhood began when she and other Hamiltonians raised funds for drought victims and donated them to Islamic Relief. Through her contact with the agency, she learned that a medical team from Canada was being sent to assist Somalis displaced by the crisis.

“I said perfect, I speak the language, I’m from there, I know the culture, I have a medical background, so it was the perfect fit,” she said. She also had the support of her husband, who was left to look after their two children.

“I have family living there still so I know the situation, ” Ms. Ali said. “The safety was an issue but I put my trust in God and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.”

The hospital in Mogadishu was a disaster zone of its own kind.

“It has been destroyed from the 22 years of war and has no real equipment or resources to deal with such a crisis,” she said. “Infection control is really something foreign because they are just trying to keep up with the influx of patients that they are getting on a day-to-day basis. And they are really sick people. It’s not your routine admissions. These are children on the verge of death and adults with diarrhea and all kinds of infections.”

The team spent the days putting infection protocols in place and training staff.

“You could hear the frustration in people’s voices but also a sense of hope,” Ms. Ali said. “They were saying we don’t want you just coming in and doing a little bit of whatever and then leaving us without any support.”

Fortunately, another team of doctors from Saudi Arabia arrived last Saturday with two planeloads of supplies and ready to take over management of the hospital.

“While we were there, a little one-and-a-half-year-old came in with complicated measles and ended up having blood disorders and was actually bleeding to death from inside. It’s heartbreaking and it’s basic blood transfusions that would have helped him,” Ms. Ali said. “When you lack the resources it just kills you.”

But despite the frustration and the danger, she said she is hopeful of going back, perhaps as soon as September.

“The job’s not done,” she said. “The job’s just beginning because the situation is getting worse. We haven’t seen the peak of this crisis.”

More related to this story

Abdihakin Omar 3, a malnourished child from drought-ravaged southern Somalia sits in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Thursday, July 21, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

Two severely malnourished children lie on a table in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, on Tuesday, July 12, 2011, after fleeing from southern Somalia due to lack of water and food. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

The above pictures are of children in Banaadir Hospital, Mogadishu, where Hodan Ali was born, and to which she returned as the nurse on an Muslim Relief sponsored aid team from her home in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to which she immigrated age 12. The ones below reflect a chronology of arrivals to Mogadishu of Somalis seeking refuge from the drought in the south, and seeking aid in the "capital" city of this "failed state".

Refugees from drought-ravaged southern Somalia wait for food aid from a Muslim Aid Organization, on Sunday, July 10, 2011, in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

A child from southern Somalia takes food at a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Wednesday, Aug 3, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

A Somali displaced family waits for assistance near a street in southern Mogadishu after fleeing from southern Somalia regions on August 3, 2011.(MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images)

Families from southern Somalia stand around a pool of rainwater in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Monday, July 11, 2011, after fleeing the drought-ravaged region. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

Somali refugees from the drought-ravaged southern part of their country walk in line after receiving food, money and blankets distributed by their government in Mogadishu on Monday July 11, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

A Somali government soldier stands guard as refugees from the drought-ravaged southern part of the country make their way to a new camp in southern Mogadishu's Hosh neighborhood on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

A woman from southern Somalia prepares food as her children watch at a camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. (Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP)

Somalis who fled from the drought-raved southern part of the country hold pots and containers as they wait to receive food at a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. (Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP)

A woman and her children displaced by drought from southern Somalia sit in an open area in a makeshift shelter in a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. (Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP)

Below are articles on coordinated efforts to provide aid to Somalia by Muslim NGOs (to meet in Nairobi), and the governments of countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (to meet in Istanbul), and cautious optimisim about aid relief being offered and reaching needy Somalis.

Saleh Al-Wohaibi

Muslim NGOs set meeting to discuss Horn of Africa
Published: Aug 11, 2011 01:29 Updated: Aug 11, 2011 01:37

RIYADH: Several Islamic aid organizations including the Riyadh-based World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will meet in Nairobi on Monday with a mission to lead international efforts to help starving people in the Horn of Africa region including Somalia.

Several UN agencies will also attend the meeting to rush aid and to map out a future strategy jointly for those African nations that have been worst hit by the famine this year.

Addressing a press conference in Riyadh Tuesday night, Saleh S. Al-Wohaibi, WAMY's secretary general, said Saudi aid agencies including NGOs have been working to save the lives of more than 10 million people fighting for survival, mainly in the arid regions of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and northern Kenya.

Al-Wohaibi was speaking during a press conference convened in Riyadh ahead of an interfaith dialogue event on Sunday in the capital. The WAMY dialogue, he said, would be attended by about 500 guests this year including 21 ambassadors and 73 other foreign diplomats as well as 170 leading businessmen and donors.

Japanese Ambassador Shigeru Endo and Argentine Ambassador Jaime Sergio Cerda will be keynote speakers. Ibrahim Al-Ghofaili, a leading Saudi businessman, will also address the audience.

Asked about the budgetary constraints faced by WAMY, which led the aid agency to downsize its operations in several Western countries, Al-Wohaibi said the international financial crisis has had an impact on charity work not only in the Gulf region but around the world.

He called on Gulf countries to contribute more to the budgets of aid organizations like WAMY.

He pointed out that "the contributions by the European countries to their NGOs range from 40 to 80 percent of the total operational budgets."

He noted that the Saudi government's financial support to WAMY has been negligible. Hence, it is increasingly becoming difficult to meet the operational costs of WAMY's 26 offices in Saudi Arabia and 38 chapters across the world. WAMY, he said, is solely dependent on the donations given by individuals and philanthropic organizations in the Kingdom.

Asked about the efforts exerted by WAMY to alleviate the sufferings of people in the Horn of Africa, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, Al-Wohaibi first expressed his profound appreciation for the generous $60 million donation made by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. He said the OIC has formed an alliance of NGOs to provide emergency relief to Somalia and other countries hit by famine.

The main alliance partners include WAMY, the Saudi Red Crescent Society, International Islamic Relief Organization, and Islamic Solidarity Fund. The OIC alliance is working in cooperation with its partners, while they are also coordinating with UN agencies in the Horn of Africa. WAMY, today, has emerged as a major social and educational aid agency, which has about 39,000 orphans under its sponsorship program across the world. This is in addition to 2,800 scholarships granted by WAMY for poor meritorious students in several countries.


A child sips medicine at a local hospital in Somalia, the country hardest hit by the Horn of Africa's drought (AFP PHOTO/ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

Islamic body to meet on Somalia
Posted: 17 August 2011 1620 hrs

ISTANBUL: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was to hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Istanbul on Wednesday on the drought and famine ravaging the Horn of Africa.

The organisation, which groups 57 Muslim countries and is currently chaired by a Turk, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, will discuss how to boost aid to the countries worst affected.

The meeting was requested by Turkey, which has mobilised to go to the aid of the victims.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to leave for the Somali capital Mogadishu on Thursday, with his wife and daughter, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, also accompanied by his family.

They are to oversee the distribution of Turkish aid in refugee camps.

Turkey has already sent three planes carrying dozens of tonnes of food and medical supplies for Somalis during the Muslim holy month of ramadan.

Turkish television channels have been screening footage of the catastrophe unfolding in Africa to help drum up aid.

More than 80 million euros has already been collected in various campaigns including a marathon television broadcast headed up by top personalities in politics and cinema, the emergency situations' office said.

Since the arrival in power of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), an moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist movement, Turkey has taken an increasing interest in Africa.

Ankara has been playing the role of regional leader and opened several embassies across the continent with the aim of finding new markets for products from the world's 17th biggest economy.

As a result of these initiatives, Turkey, Islam's main representative within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, also secured a seat as non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council in 2009-2010.

Turkey is angling to repeat the feat in 2015-2016.

Somalia is the country hardest hit by a drought that has affected people around the Horn of Africa region.

UN officials have said some 12 million people are in danger of starvation.


More aid reaching Somalia
Reuters | 12 August, 2011 01:24

The UN Food Agency says it has been able to reach more parts of famine-struck Somalia in the past month but there are still big security challenges in the capital, Mogadishu, even though the Islamist rebels have left.

About 3.6 million people in Somalia are at risk of starvation as the Horn of Africa experiences its worst drought in decades. The worst-hit Somalis live in areas controlled by al-Shabab militants, which have forbidden people to accept Western aid, and many have risked their lives to travel to Mogadishu in search of food.

The rebels, who have been waging a four-year insurgency against the Western-backed government, withdrew from the capital at the weekend in what they called a tactical move. But there have been outbreaks of fighting.

Al-Shabab's retreat has raised concerns of a security vacuum that AU peacekeepers and government troops would not be able to fill.

The militants, who oppose Western intervention, imposed a ban on aid agencies. They lifted the ban last month when the food crisis hit critical levels, but then reneged on the dealt.

"We have, over the last month, gained access to areas in which we were previously not able to operate," Stanlake Samkange, the World Food Programme's director for east and central Africa, said yesterday.

The World Food Programme had said that aid agencies had not been able to reach the more than 2million Somalis in the worst-hit areas, most of which are in southern Somalia, because al-Shabab had refused them access. The World Food Programme now provides assistance to more than 1.5 million people in Somalia.

Samkange said that in the past month the World Food Programme has received more than $25-million in contributions and pledges, and has distributed more than 100000t of aid throughout the region.

More than $100-million worth of food is on its way to the Horn of Africa.

But the aid could be at risk, with US legislators proposing a cut in funding of $488-million for USAid in the next financial year. That would be $705-million less than the Obama administration has requested.

The bleak economic outlook in the US and Europe is raising fears that some sources of assistance could dry up.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Ramadan and the 2011 Somalia Famine: A Great Need for Zakat, Sadaqa, Charity; A Reluctant Response

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