|© UNICEF Somalia/2009|
|UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell speaks with Mona (seated at left), 6, who fled with her family two years ago from Mogadishu to Bossaso, north-east Somalia.|
By Iman Morooka
BOSSASO, Somalia, 22 May 2009 – Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondent and current UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies, recently concluded a three-day trip to the north-east zone of Somalia to report on the situation of children and women affected by conflict, drought, displacement and other hardships – and to shed light on UNICEF’s efforts to provide them with crucial services.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a ground-breaking international convention that guarantees human rights to all children everywhere.
"Nearly every country has ratified [the CRC] and made a promise to children to respect their childhood and to respect their rights. That's a promise that's being violated every day, in Somalia, especially," Mr. Bell said.
In Bossaso, one of the country’s busiest ports, Mr. Bell visited settlements for displaced people and saw firsthand the dire conditions in which they live. Displaced populations form a group of chronically vulnerable people here, lacking even the most basic social services and livelihood opportunities.
Bossaso hosts 27 camps where 40,000 people have sought refuge from other parts of the country. Over 1 million people in Somalia are internally displaced, mainly due to the conflict and insecurities in the central and southern regions.
Nutrition and health services
“This is my eighteenth war zone, and I think this is the most difficult situation I ever encountered – also the one in which children are suffering to an extraordinary extent”, said Mr. Bell.
Almost half of the total population in Somalia, or about 3.2 million people, are in need of emergency assistance. Mr. Bell visited projects implemented by UNICEF and its partners to aid those at risk, including feeding programmes at health facilities to provide severely malnourished children with nutritional and medical services.
Malnutrition rates among displaced children in Bossaso are alarmingly high, exceeding 27 per cent, according to an assessment by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit in Somalia. Global acute malnutrition level in Somalia as a whole stands at 18 per cent, well above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
|© UNICEF Somalia/2009|
|Somali students at the UNICEF-supported Biyokulule primary school, located in the eastern part of Bossaso town, where most of the area’s under-served population lives.|
‘The answer is education’
During Mr. Bell’s visit, community residents in Bossaso stressed the importance of education, identifying it as a priority area in need of immediate attention and support.
While UNICEF continues to be the sole provider of virtually all supplies and textbooks for primary schools throughout Somalia, a combination of conflict, poverty and lack of appropriate facilities – as well as authorities’ inability to sustain teacher salaries – have had a serious impact on children’s enrolment and school attendance.
“You have a country where barely 30 per cent of the children go to school,” said Mr. Bell. “Of course, there has to be peace, but the answer is education, education, education. If we put money, a fraction of the money, into education, then Somalia can be saved.”
Need for awareness and support
Despite visible deterioration of the security situation in the country over the past year, which continues to erode the humanitarian space, UNICEF and its partners are striving to implement crucial projects on the ground.
“The world should know that there are a lot of heroes and heroines in Somalia – UNICEF and other aid agencies’ workers doing a fantastic job in the most difficult situation imaginable,” said Mr. Bell. “Because it is so unsafe, there are no international journalists, and Somalia has dropped out of the news, which is very unfortunate and makes it difficult to raise money for these people who need it so desperately.”
Mr. Bell will be campaigning in the United Kingdom to raise awareness about the humanitarian situation in Somalia and support fundraising efforts for UNICEF’s programmes for Somali children and women.