A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
This past weekend in Nairobi I was privileged to meet Guhad Muhammad Adan, an impressive, young Kenyan-Somali with a real determination to tackle some of the key issues facing the Somali people. Over the best part of two hours, Guhad outlined the work of Somali NGO Social-Life and Agricultural Development Organisation (SADO), as it responds to the tragic humanitarian situation gripping his country.
Somalia is at the epicentre of the East Africa food crisis. It’s estimated that some four million Somalis are affected – struggling to find enough food and water in a country plagued by armed conflict and without an effective government. Most of the people affected are in the south of Somalia. Nearly two million people have moved, seeking sustenance and security either elsewhere in the country or across the borders in Kenya or Ethiopia.
Trust and confidence in the community
But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any effective non-government groups helping keep people alive, providing the basic essentials for life. SADO is one example. Formed in 1994, it’s clearly got deep roots in Somali society and has the trust and confidence of both the people in need, and those who help shape their country as a whole.
Oxfam has supported SADO since 2004 with a focus on developing its capacity to help the communities it works with. This long-term investment in SADO has clearly paid off, as it and other Somali NGOs respond to the crisis afflicting their country. As Guhan, a program officer at SADO, explains: “The only effective NGOs were those who had had capacity building.”
The priority: saving lives
As this year’s food crisis unfolded, SADO shifted gear from its longer term work to immediate response. As with all humanitarian work, the focus is on saving lives. It’s working in southern Somalia in close coordination with other NGOs. Deeply embedded in the local communities, it is prioritising getting food, water and sanitation to people in need.
Cash transfers are the key method of tackling the crisis. Getting cash into people’s hands gives them some control over their situation, and helps to stimulate the local economy. The cash transfers are backed up the distribution of water purification tablets, basic hygiene kits that include soap, jerry cans and water basins, as well as blankets and mosquito nets. SADO has also led the building of latrines and have run hygiene awareness campaigns.
Given the highly volatile and precarious situation in southern Somalia, SADO’s work is a true beacon that demonstrates the importance of local ownership of humanitarian responses.
When the rain will come
The much needed rain is due in the next fortnight. There’s a fear that it may not come – or that too much may come and floods will follow. SADO, with the support of Oxfam, is gearing up, fired by the hope that enough – but not too much – rain will come and that crop planting may happen. Seeds and tools will become essential, but even if crops can be planted soon, the harvest won’t be until next year.
This crisis is far from over. The need for peace, and for a greater global humanitarian response, will remain. Guhan, his colleagues and the communities they’re working with deserve nothing less.
Read more about Oxfam’s response to the East Africa food crisis