World Humanitarian Day 2022
This year we profile the work and reflections of Omid Fazel, a UNICEF multimedia specialist who recently travelled to Somalia
At least ten million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are suffering the worst climate-induced drought the Horn of Africa has seen in 40 years. More than 1.8 million children across the region require urgent treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.
The following is an account by Omid Fazel, a multimedia specialist with UNICEF Afghanistan. As part of a stretch assignment with the UNICEF fundraising team in Geneva, Omid recently travelled to Somalia to document the devastating impact of the drought.
Banadir Hospital, Mogadishu
I was walking in the corridor of the hospital when I met Ibrahim. Doctors were trying to take blood from him, so they could find the right blood group to do a blood transfusion. Ibrahim was on top of a table, two nurses were close to him, trying to insert a needle into Ibrahim’s vein to collect a sample of blood for testing.
When you see the body of Ibrahim…you change your mind, you change your life. The shape and size of Ibrahim’s body was small and it reminded me of my children. We are all human and it is intolerable to see a child suffer in front of our eyes and do nothing. Children are suffering from this in this country. This still exists. That moment was unforgettable for me. The way his grandmother carried him. I could hardly tolerate to look at him.
I have a ten-month-old girl at home in Afghanistan. Her name is Roqia. If my daughter were to become like this, how would I feel? I would definitely spend whatever I had to save my child, but Ibrahim’s father’s income is one dollar per day.
I asked the woman caring for him if she was his mother. She was his grandmother. His mother could not breastfeed him and was at home taking care of another child. His father is a labourer working on a daily basis. Sometimes he earns one or two dollars, sometimes he comes back home with empty hands.
I met Marwo in the recovery ward. You can see from her face she had been receiving treatment through a tube for severe acute malnutrition.
There were other children, mothers sitting everywhere. There weren’t enough beds in the hospital. Sometimes there were two children in a single bed. The hospital said the number of cases had suddenly increased.
Marwo was feeling a lot better. The treatment was a long procedure. Her mother said she spent a long time in hospital. Now she had gained weight and she was almost ready to be discharged.
This was a room where mothers were very happy. You could see joy and happiness on their faces and in their conversations. All the children were close to discharge. I could not understand the language, but from their conversation and body language I could see how happy the mothers were. They showed their children’s faces to my camera.
My mindset totally changed after going to the hospital. When I got back into the car, I was a different person, not the one who was there in the morning inside the car. You have seen things you have never seen. Children and families are in a dire situation and they really need our help. I want to do the best work I can do. My camera is the only means I have in my hands to improve things for them and reflect their problems and situations.
When I got back to the accommodation, I could not switch back to my normal life and I went to my room and I thought about those children. The cup of tea I had brought with me went cold.
Dollow, Kaharey camp for internally displaced people
Before landing at Dollow airport, I took some photos from the aeroplane. The land was very dry. You could see the impact of the drought. I wondered how it was possible people were even living there: with no trees, no buildings at all under the sun.
When we arrived at the camp in Dollow, I stepped down from my car and the weather, the heat hit me. It was so hot it was hard to bear. The temperature was 91 Fahrenheit. Even during shooting my camera overheated and I put it off for a while.
The people in the camp have nothing. They have nothing to sit on: not a pillow, not a carpet. There are no dishes. Where I worked in Afghanistan, in camps at least they had a pillow, a mattress. People had to walk a long way to find water. The tents people were staying in are made of blankets, tarpaulins, piece of fabric and plastic, fastened to a structure of sticks. New people arrived while I was there and began building these shelters.
It seems donors are going towards some countries and totally forgetting other emergency countries. We need a collective response since the need is huge. We have to support Ukraine, of course, but we should not forget other emergencies and millions of children and women who are really in need.
I see from my work in Afghanistan and now in Somalia that it is always women and children who are suffering the most during crisis. As you can see in this photo, most of them are women and children who are fetching water for their families. They had to come to this water point and carry jerry cans full of water, even barefoot. They are very heavy. Some of the women were pregnant. Personally, I know how it is difficult to carry a jerry can full of water because when I was a child I used to fetch water for my family during the drought crisis. When I see this girl, I remember me.
As I was walking through the camp and covered my face with a towel because of the heat, a young boy was following behind me. I asked the translator what he was saying and he was asking me to come and see his house. “Right, let’s go,” I said. His name was Issack. He was 12 years old. He was barefoot on the ground, under the sun. He hardly had any clothes. But he walked strongly through the camp. “Give me a pose,” I said. He leaned against the wall of his house with a smile.
Zeynab and her husband have lost three of their eight children to hunger and disease. Zeynab told me crying that the saddest moment of her life was when she lost her youngest daughter. She was two and had severe acute malnutrition and cholera.
How do you keep going after such a tragedy?
Their youngest now has malnutrition too. She is very weak and has diarrhoea.
When I left the camp, I fell asleep on the flight back to Mogadishu; very tired and downhearted. When I reached my room in Mogadishu, I cried. Usually I sleep around 10 or 10.30 pm, but after copying my photos and my video, I could not sleep at all that night. I was closing my eyes, feeling like I was back in the camp, with children and their families.
“I joined UNICEF in November 2018. Personally, in my life, I have been through a lot of difficulties. I was a child the first time I saw UNICEF – around 13 years old. I was at school in Kabul. Our school had nothing: no chair, no teacher, we were sitting on the ground under the sun light. I saw they were distributing these UNICEF bags. I used to carry my notebook in a plastic bag. I used to feel so ashamed of it. The day when I received this UNICEF bag, I was very happy.“
– Omid Fazel