Searching for clean water in Somalia

“The main problem in Somalia is gastrointestinal diseases, (like) diarrhea, parasites, giardia, and hepatitis. The public system doesn’t provide safe water,” said Mohamed Hassan, a Public Health Coordinator working in Mogadishu.

Mohamed works for HIJRA, an Oxfam partner in the capital city. Clean water can make the difference between life and death in such a poverty-stricken environment. As the present famine crisis forced more than a million Somalis to flee their homes in search of food and water, many Somalis have fleto Mogadishu. There are now more than 100 camps for displaced Somalis scattered around the capital. One of the larger of these camps, is Siliga.

“There are 12,000 IDPs,” said Sa’dio Osman, a community leader of Siliga Camp, “the people need so much.” The acronym ‘IDP’ stands for ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, and Siliga is one of the largest IDP camps in the capital. Occupying the grounds of the former US embassy, the government buildings are long gone. The displaced Somali families sheltering here now, sleep every night in makeshift shelters made only of sticks, cloth and plastic sheeting. Living conditions are difficult and unsanitary.

Working with partners to deliver clean water

With more and more displaced people crowding into the camps in Mogadishu, Oxfam has been scaling up its programs in Somalia due to the famine crisis. Working with the local Somali agency HIJRA, Oxfam began providing clean water for the Siliga camp earlier this year.

“We started working in Siliga nine months before now,” said Daud Rahoy, Officer in Charge for HIJRA. “We constructed platforms. On top of the platforms, we put in water tanks. We installed several water points, and distributed water throughout the camp.”

The presence of clean water drastically improved the living conditions in Siliga, and the families living here took notice.

“I know HIJRA very well, it’s the only NGO that helps us,” said Fatumah, a 50 year old resident of Siliga. “They help us with water, and the latrines.”

Fatumah is a widow from Bay Region, and came to Mogadishu to escape the famine. “I’ve been displaced from the drought for nine months,” she said.

“It was very bad, drought took all the animals."

Made destitute by the drought, Fatumah (pictured above) and her 10 children set out for Mogadishu on foot. Walking with about 50 other families from their community, the journey took more than a month. “All the children were malnourished,” she said of the long and difficult trip. “Five children died on the way, and two elders.”

Fatumah’s children and grandchildren managed to survive, and eventually made their way to Siliga, where they live now.

After settling in, Fatumah wanted to contribute to the betterment of the camp, so she joined the local Water, Environment and Sanitation committee.

The committee is supported and organized by HIJRA. As part of her community volunteer work, Fatumah cleans the water tap stands, and helps to collect trash around the camp.

“I do this to help the people improve their hygiene,” Fatumah explains. “If we didn’t do this, there would be heaps of garbage.”

A young boy collects water in an Oxfam jerry can.

Community solutions

Oxfam and HIJRA believe that beneficiary communities should be involved in implementing their own solutions. Beneficiaries like Fatumah bring a community based commitment, to the challenges they face every day in places like Siliga.

Until her family finds more resources, Fatumah and her extended family will not be going back to Bay Region anytime soon. “There’s no place for us to go back to,” she said of her former home, “there are no animals, no crops.”

While clean water is important, proper sanitation and hygiene is also an important part of healthy living in the camp. “Cleanliness is half the faith,” said Mohamed of HIJRA, using a culturally appropriate quote.

Additional Oxfam and HIJRA support for water, sanitation and hygiene, includes jerry cans to collect water, soap, latrines, and public health promotion activities. There are also sanitary packages provided for the women in Siliga.

With Siliga well established, clean water and sanitation will be available for camp residents well into the future. Another local Somali resident sums it up, “without HIJRA and Oxfam, we wouldn’t be able to stay here.”

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