International aid organizations warn that still not enough aid is reaching famine-stricken areas in East Africa. The United Nations is now making final preparations to supply the starving via an airlift. A report from Mogadishu about the many helpers.
Aid workers settled on piles of rubble, tired from a day's work in scorching heat. They were on the road for hours in the Somali capital Mogadishu, looking for malnourished infants and young children. There are thousands of them these days. According to the World Food Program (WFP), in the first three weeks of July alone, 21.000 people have fled to Mogadishu from the Somali famine areas.
Piles of rubble line the site where workers from the Somali organization Saacid set up a mobile feeding station three days ago. In Mogadishu, rubble is nothing special; the Somali capital is scarred by a 20-year civil war and still embattled.
Aid workers set up their feeding station next to a refugee camp that sprang up in a matter of days and already has 16.000 people have found refuge. Saacid workers have built a corrugated iron hut, set up two tables, hung a scale for babies and started work.
The helpers do what they can "Since then, we have already treated 370 malnourished and 200 severely malnourished infants," says Abdullahi Mohammed Ibrahim. He is a nurse and heads the mobile feeding station. He is convinced: "If we had more helpers, we would also have more cases." Saacid distributes reconstruction food to children. The helpers do what they can. But in the face of adversity, that's never enough, says Abdullahi Mohammed. "For weeks we have been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the need."
Saacid receives financial support for the mobile feeding station from Oxfam and the UN organizations UNICEF and WFP. For their cookshops, the Danish Refugee Council is their partner. "We are working in all the districts of the city," stresses Abdullahi Mohammed, "even those dominated by the Islamist Al Shabaab". This is possible, he says, because the organization is strictly neutral.
Other organizations are also working across the country. The Irish organization Concern, for example, says it has been in Somalia for 25 years: during the 1990s, when warlords dominated the war effort, and again today, while the Islamist militia Al Shabaab fights the weak transitional government.
"We are working in all areas, including those now controlled by Al Shabaab," stressed Austin Keenan of Concern. This includes the two regions of Bay Bakool as well as Lower Schabelle, where the UN has declared a famine emergency.
The risk for the collaborators is high. Strict neutrality is the only chance to survive as aid workers in Somalia. Whatever the aid workers might be construed as taking sides with Somalia's weak transitional government carries an incalculable risk. Concern is part of Alliance 2015, a European alliance of aid organizations.
Because they place the highest value on this neutrality, other Western organizations have also been able to help in all areas for years. These include the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is present on the ground primarily through the Somali Red Crescent. Also "Doctors Without Borders", and Christian organizations such as the "Norwegian Church Aid".
"We are strictly neutral"
The Somali partner organization of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and Caritas International, DBG, is also involved. "We are strictly neutral," says its director Omar Olad. "We negotiate with all sides, including Al Shabaab."
In contrast, the militias deny access to the WFP and some other organizations. They accuse them of pursuing less humanitarian than political goals. At the end of 2009, the Islamist militia imposed conditions on the WFP if it wanted to continue its work in their area. Conditions not imposed on others.
Among other things, WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon told epd at the time, female staff should have been dismissed. "The conditions were simply unacceptable," said Smerdon. As a result, the WFP stopped its work in Islamist-controlled areas in early 2010. Even now, in the face of drought, Al Shabaab's relationship with the WFP does not appear to have changed.