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David's Field Blog: Somalia briefing

By David Morley
President and CEO, UNICEF Canada

October 14, 2011:  The security at the UN Compound – the UN’s hub for Eastern Africa – is very tight.  People remember the bombing in Nigeria just a few weeks ago.  The grounds are lovely, the UNICEF offices are efficient, clean and bright as we head for our briefing on Somalia from Hannan and Shantha.

“You were lucky you made it to Dadaab this week,” Hannan begins.  “We can’t move out at all now because of security.  But today Mogadishu is okay. That’s the way the security situation goes – it is always changing.”

Despite all the conflict within Somalia, UNICEF and our partners have been working there for years. 

“We’ve worked everywhere,” says Hannan.  “We are the main water providers in the country.  We’ve supplied almost all the materials for schools and hospitals – we work with those important anchors of community.  But even so, it is not easy.  We have to negotiate all the time with all the different actors.  We will never pay bribes, and they know that if they want their communities to get these supplies, they will eventually have to let us through.”

It is very hard to work where there is not a functioning government, but UNICEF Somalia has developed an ingenious plan to get water in in a sustainable way.  They negotiate partnerships between town councils and local businesses to make local water sustainable by selling shares.  Building on Somali business acumen, these private-public partnerships make a profit when they connect the water supply to a house – but the town council makes sure that displaced people and woman-headed families get their water for free.  In a place like Somalia we have to be creative – and this is a great example.

But despite what we are able to do inside Somalia – and the 800 Nutrition Centres and countless schools we support, to say nothing of the fact that we have provided almost all the clean drinking water available – Hannan is passionate and upset about what we haven’t been able to do.  “Every day you feel that children are victims of politics.  This is a children’s famine – they are ones who are dying and suffering  because of high food prices, the drought, and the politics.”

The politics are very complicated.  In some parts of the country teachers have been threatened when they try to stop parties to the conflict from recruiting children to fight – some are as young as 7 or 8 years old – boys and girls alike.  That is horrific.

The logistics of getting therapeutic food and medical supplies into the country are incredible.  “We aim of get 2 to 5 flights a day into Mogadishu and send trucks across the border – always depending on the security situation.  We have ships, too – and things are coming from supply bases in India, South Africa, Belgium and Dubai – we’ve got 800 containers of therapeutic food alone!”

That logistical effort is why our cash voucher program, while still small, is growing.  Even in a famine, there is still some food on the market, but the prices are far too high for the poor to pay. So the cash voucher allows some people to buy food – and inject money into the local economy.  We know we must continue to stay completely neutral in this conflict if we want to be able to help the children – this is even reflected in our refusal to add logos on food vouchers.  Our cash vouchers have nobody’s logo at all.

But here is the rub.  We have massively scaled up our operations in these past months.  Once the famine was declared, people’s generosity was remarkable, and UNICEF and all our partners have been able to respond and save thousands of lives.  But what will happen to those children when this leaves the TV screens?  How can we keep up the heroic efforts?  Make no mistake about it, the nurses in the Nutrition Centres, the teachers, the drivers negotiating supplies through checkpoints, the mechanics fixing water pumps, these people are all heroes. How can we help them continue to save lives?  We have enough money for a few more months at this level, but the crisis will last far longer and that is the challenge facing us all. And again I ask, how we can help them continue to save lives?

David Morley is sharing updates from Kenya

Read David's blog posts:
What do higher food prices mean for the world's poor?

Back in Kenya

The Dadaab refugee camps

The End of an Era

Camels in Riba

Wajir District Hospital

Follow @DMorleyUNICEF

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