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Conflict over scarce resources in drought-stricken Somalia

© UNICEF Video
Men with automatic rifles are a common sight in Somalia.

By Sarah Crowe

BAKOOL REGION, Somalia, 6 June 2006 – In a country that is ungoverned and ungovernable, men with guns are as much a part of the Somali landscape as are the dusty roads. In the past 15 years, divisive clan warfare has dominated the political life of Somalia; in recent months, factionalism has reached new heights, particularly in and around Mogadishu.

No one is spared. Children and health workers have been kidnapped and even killed. Water and food are fought over, adding an incalculable burden for ordinary people already struggling to get through one of the worst droughts they have experienced.

In a country with no central government, little happens without a weapon. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis, the militia sets up makeshift roadblocks, stopping even UN vehicles.

At the barrel of an AK 47, everything has a price. In a bone-dry land, water is like liquid gold.

“Water is the money here, and there are powerful people controlling everything – well-armed people controlling the water,” said the head of logistics for Médecins Sans Frontières in Huddar district, Knut Gunnar Maehlumshagen. “In town, people are forced to pay for water, and that is a huge problem for many people.”

© UNICEF Video
Armed militiamen control much of Somalia’s Bakool Region’s water supplies.

More help urgently needed

The drought has hit hard here in Bakool. Farms lie fallow and water runs low, forcing people to move in and out of temporary camps in search of resources. The last to arrive are the last to get help.

“As soon as resources start dwindling, that’s when the conflict starts – especially when there is very little water and everybody wants to have priority,” said UNICEF Water and Sanititation Officer Abdulkadir Dalib in Wajid, Somalia. “Those who come first are the people from the area. So people who are not from that area, or who moved into the area, are not considered a priority.”

It is a situation ripe for anger, frustration and conflict. Even with scattered rainfall of late, vital water supplies run out. Recently, for example, there was no clean water at a major health centre here for three straight days.

Organized help is starting to trickle in; seed from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is stacked up and being distributed to a few lucky farmers. Still, this forgotten patch on the eastern edge of Africa is one of the most challenging and dangerous places in the world for humanitarian organizations.

More help and more time are needed urgently. It’s only the guns they don’t need more of in Somalia.




UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports from Somalia on the drought in the Horn of Africa and Somalia’s conflict over water.
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