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Frontline diary: Lives uprooted by Somalia floods

UNICEF Image: Somalia: Floods
© UNICEF ESARO/2006/Lone
Waktia Mahado and some of her children in UNICEF-assisted Arare Camp for people displaced by the floods in Somalia.

By Patricia Lone

ARARE CAMP, Somalia, 21 December 2006 – The broad picture of the torrential rains and floods in Somalia is grim enough – a huge expanse of some 100,000 productive hectares lies submerged after the Shabelle and Juba rivers burst their banks. Almost half a million people are displaced. Lives, possessions, crops and livestock have been lost and villages inundated.

The closer one gets, as human details come into focus, it becomes much worse. And worse still from the low-angle, vulnerable perspective of children in this treacherous, waterlogged landscape.

We reach Arare Camp after a journey of about six hours, by plane, then helicopter, four-wheel vehicle and finally by hand-hauled skiff across the Juba. Arare has sprung up in the past month and a half and is home now to 140 families, about 1,400 people. It sits astride a narrow road embankment on the far side of the Juba River across from the small town of Jamame.

Relief trucks mired in mud

The plains are flooded. The bridge over the Juba River was destroyed years ago, and roads are either muddied or underwater. More than 70 relief trucks are mired in mud. There is too little high ground to escape the flooding, and the movement of relief supplies is extremely difficult.

In Arare Camp, reed-frame shelters, draped with plastic sheeting supplied by UNICEF, line the road that runs through the camp’s centre. Women and children sit outside their shelters, cooking, washing clothes and talking.

Waktia Mahado and her 11 children have been in Arare for a month. Waktia, 30, holds her youngest child. Two toddlers hang on her skirt as the other children cluster nearby.

There is little for children to do in the narrow confines of the shelters and camp, with floodwaters lapping at the edges of the road embankment. Spaces to play are few, some children leap and swim in the flood pools, but there is very little dry land. Mud is everywhere.

Struggle against water-borne diseases

Her children have diarrhoea, Waktia says – a common problem for children throughout the camp, since water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing is drawn from the muddy river. Although water purification tablets are available, the unsanitary conditions, lack of latrines, congestion and unsafe water mean a constant struggle against water-related diseases.

UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Muslim Aid offer medical care in clinics in the camp. UNICEF is also distributing mosquito nets, and the shelters we visit have nets – a boon because malaria is a huge problem in the flooded conditions.

Somalia, battered and buffeted by 16 years of war and now the searing drought and torrential floods, is a devastated but resilient place. War clouds are massing along with the heavy rain clouds, however, and one can only wonder how much more suffering the children and people of Somalia will face.

No one can stop the rain. War and peace do remain, however tenuously but hopefully, within human control.



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