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Emergency - Tsunami renews interest in Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2005-016/Mulala
Children learning at a primary school in Hafun under the shelter of tarpaulin tents provided by UNICEF. The student population has risen to 148 from 92 earlier, mainly as a result of UNICEF advocacy efforts as part of the tsunami relief effort.

HAFUN, Somalia, 17 January 2005 – Located far out on the eastern edge of the Horn of Africa, where no proper roads exist and the airstrip is the desert, the remote Somali fishing village of Hafun hasn’t had so much attention in decades.

Once the bustling capital of Italian Somaliland, it bears the scars of the World War 2 battle in which the British bombed and seized the town from Mussolini’s forces. Now the town has been flattened again – this time by a deadly tsunami wave from the far side of the Indian Ocean. The wave’s aftereffects – broken buildings, torn fishing nets, scarred boats and scraps of clothing – now lie alongside and among the historic remains from before.

 “The last time we saw a government official here was in 1969,” said the mayor of Hafun, Abshir Labbi Taange. “Before that was Mussolini.” There has been no central government in Somalia since strongman Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.

Concrete homes levelled

Largely cut off from the outside world, the people living on the shores of Africa’s longest coastline thought they were the only ones in the world to have been hit by a wall of water. When the ocean rose up, breached Hafun’s protective sand dune, and levelled concrete homes, there was no central authority to turn to for help. Historically, humanitarian organisations such as UNICEF have tried to fill that gap as best they could; today, Hafun’s only dwellings are timber frames under the grey and blue plastic sheeting of UNICEF’s mother and child logo.
 
Ironically, Hafun could in time end up better off because of the tsunami. In this bone-dry region, cholera and diarrhoea are major causes of death among children; because of the tsunami, new boreholes and deeper, safer wells are now being dug in the mountains. The village never had proper sanitation; now there are 30 new latrines in the village, vastly improved new healthcare facilities, and a new school.

“Now all the water at the household level is being chlorinated, and the next step is to train the community people so that they do not have to depend on people coming from the outside,” said UNICEF project officer Alhaji Bah.

 

© UNICEF Somalia/2005-032/Mulala
Residents of Hafun get water at a well that has been cleaned through UNICEF support. UNICEF has supplied dewatering pumps for removing sea water and debris which was swept into the wells in Hafun by the tidal wave.

A forgotten emergency

But the effects of the tsunami disaster in Somalia pale in comparison to the country’s real problems. For a Somali child, the chances of surviving to adulthood are among the lowest in the world. Some 20 per cent of children under five are malnourished.

Somalia is one of the world’s forgotten emergencies. With the country’s government-in- exile due to return from Kenya, the country is now entering a crucial transition stage.

Alhaji Bah summarized the situation: “Whether you are in a tsunami-affected area or not, the needs for water are there, the needs for health are there, the needs for education are there. This is something that we will have to justify to the donors and say,"Look here, the tsunami has hit some three areas in Somalia, but there are lots of other needs that need to be addressed."

 

 
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