Somalia has been going through a protracted crisis. The Somali people are suffering the consequences of fighting that has raged for some 20 years and extreme weather events such as droughts. Almost half of the 10 million inhabitants of Somalia are dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Gaining access to people in need is a major challenge for humanitarian organisations and development agencies that have to operate in an environment where clashes between scores of armed groups, including Al-Shabaab, are a daily occurrence. The ICRC is one of the few organisations able to reach communities in combat zones. It can rely on five operational offices located throughout the country as well as on the network of the Somali Red Crescent Society. In 2016, the SDC has allocated CHF 4 million for ICRC operations in Somalia.
Strengthening understanding of and compliance with international humanitarian law
"We carry out all our activities in a transparent way with the approval of the authorities concerned. The goal is to earn the trust of local communities and the parties to the conflict", notes Jordi Raich Curcó, head of the ICRC delegation in Somalia. The ICRC considers it imperative to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law as an absolute prerequisite for gaining access to people caught up in hostilities.
With this in mind, the ICRC has produced several publications drawing parallels between Somali culture and humanitarian law which are being distributed throughout the country and presented to community leaders and other stakeholders. The ICRC is also offering training courses for soldiers of Somalia's national armed forces and of the African Union Mission in Somalia to ensure compliance with the law.
Securing access to healthcare and drinking water
In delivering humanitarian assistance, the ICRC is particularly active in the healthcare sector. For example, it provides four large hospitals with support to improve the quality of care given to civilians injured in the fighting. At the hospital in Kismayo in southern Somalia, for instance, the ICRC is training medical staff, providing medical equipment and renovating operating theatres.
Access to drinking water is another priority. The ICRC is digging wells, installing rainwater harvesting systems and repairing existing infrastructure. Local communities are involved in the work and are also taught how to keep the installations in good repair.
The ICRC also distributes water purification tables to people living in towns and villages affected by flooding. During the rainy season, there is a high risk of epidemics as rivers burst their banks and wells are filled with mud. It then becomes essential to do whatever is necessary to limit the number of cases of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.
Situation exacerbated by El Niño
Since the end of 2015, the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño has increased the risk of flooding in several parts of Somalia, as happened in 1997 and 2006. Based on previous experience, the ICRC has taken several preventive measures, including distributing sandbags to communities along the banks of the Juba and Shabelle rivers.
In the regions of Sool, Sanaag and Bari in northern Somalia, El Niño has had the opposite effect, turning thousands of hectares of land into a dust bowl and once again raising the spectre of famine for some 350,000 people. In those regions, the ICRC is distributing rice, beans and oil in collaboration with the Somali Red Crescent Society.
A long-term commitment
In parallel with its emergency operations and in view of the ongoing crisis, the ICRC is also working to ensure the medium and long-term development of Somalia.
"In the agricultural sector, for example, we are helping farmers by supplying them with seed, fertilizer, hydraulic pumps and tractors, and are also offering a host of training courses on new farming techniques", explains Jordi Raich Curcó.
In Somali prisons, the ICRC offers carpentry and sewing courses to give prisoners a chance of making a productive transition back into society once they are released.