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The UN announced today a worsening of famine conditions in Somalia. The country is at the epicenter of the current drought affecting East Africa; with 3.7 million affected by the crisis – and an estimated 3.2 million in need of immediate, life-saving help. The expectation is that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate over the coming months; and that lower-than-expected rains in some areas will mean the emergency will continue well into next year.
One of Oxfam’s local partners, WASDA (Wajir South Development Association), operates programs to drought-hit communities in Wajir, north-eastern Kenya, as well as Lower and Middle Juba, in Somalia itself.
WASDA program manager, Bashir Mohamed, who regularly travels into Somalia, spoke to Oxfam media officer Caroline Gluck about the current challenges they’re facing getting aid to those who need it most.
“In the last week (week of 29 August) we saw a large influx of households – about 150 – move into areas around Afmadow, the district headquarters in Lower Juba. These were pastoral families. They told us their livestock had all died and they moved to areas where we are doing water trucking.
“One old man in Oogani town told our staff that he had never seen any conditions like this in his lifetime. He said all his animals were dead and they didn’t know how they were going to get through the next few months.
“Things are not improving. You can see the very bad condition of livestock along the roads. Unless people get help, they won’t survive over the next few weeks. We saw a huge amount of animals dying back in January and March; then things slightly improved. But since July they are worsening again. All the pasture is depleted.
“Even shallow wells, that provided water are now drying up. Afmadow, which has a population of about 22,000 relied on about 27 shallow wells; but in the last 3-4 days they have almost dried up. And this is one indication that the situation is getting worse and worse.
“Some areas of Somalia, like Mogadishu and Gedo, have been getting more aid. And apart from the border town of Dobley [which lies en route to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya] , nothing much has reached people in Lower and Middle Juba. Access is a big problem; its taken a long time to get agreement from authorities for programmes to start and we’ve had many delays.
“But now I hope we will be moving fast in our work. We’ve now got agreement for our cash distribution program to start. We will be targeting 14,600 households in middle Juba and lower Juba and hope we might be able to start this week.
“We have been trucking in water into Lower Juba since July. But the numbers of people needing water are increasing as the situation is getting worse. And we’ve been providing fuel subsidies to some communities so that boreholes can run 24 hours a day, as well as rehabilitating shallow wells.
“We’re planning to drill four new boreholes in the next few weeks in Lower Juba (in Hagar; Nasiriya, Wel Marow and Bibi). And the drilling could take several weeks. The sites have all be chosen for their strategic locations. These are pastoral areas, but very far from rivers, towns, or other water points. The areas are all around 60 kilometers or more from any waterpoints, so when they’re finished, it will be a great help to many people.
“Conditions are very severe; there are no health facilities and people face restrictions on their movements.
“People are just praying for the coming rains. But even if the rains come and we manage to reach everyone targeted in our interventions, this emergency will continue will into January and February at the earliest.
“We are planning to give agricultural inputs to farmers living in Middle Juba in the areas along the River Juba. But even if people can plant their crops in October if there’s enough rainfall, the harvest wont be ready until January or February. We are planning help with livestock in October and November; but animals won’t be able to calve for some time after that.
“We are not expecting a huge improvement in the amount of food available; but at least we can avoid the situation getting even worse.
“However, if there isn’t any rain…I think we can say that the situation could get out of hand and we fear the worst. If the rains fail, the community have already lost almost everything and have no other means of supporting themselves. They will have to go across to Dadaab camp or they will face death.
“Our work now is a big help; you can say it offers a lifeline to people. But there are still many people who need our help and their needs are ever-increasing. For the next four months, we will be starting cash distributions in some communities and it will make a big difference. If we can offer support with water, public health and livelihoods – and we plan to distribute seeds and tools to people in the coming weeks – it will really provide a big boost.“
Across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, Oxfam has reached more than 1.3 million people with humanitarian aid. We are aiming to reach 3 million people through a $99 million program.
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