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Safe water remains scarce in Somalia, contributing to disease and malnutrition

© UNICEF Somalia/2012/Abdulle
A child washes his hand in clean water provided by a UNICEF-supported programme in Mogadishu, Somalia. Safe water is still difficult to come by in Somalia.

By Abdul-Kadir Abdulle and Eva Gilliam

World Water Day, commemorated each year on 22 March, focuses attention on the importance of freshwater to sustainable development. World Water Day 2012 emphasizes the importance of water to global food security.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, 21 March 2012 – A line of women and children curves around the wall of a defunct hospital, now home to an Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP)  in the Hodan District of Mogadishu.

At the entrance to the centre, which is run by UNICEF partner and local NGO SAACID , a water tap, basin and soap sit invitingly. These are life-saving resources for the families queuing outside the centre, many of whom have been displaced by violence or food insecurity.

Lack of water devastated Somalia last year. It was the worst drought in over two decades, leading to famine in several areas of the south. While the situation has improved, 2.34 million people still require life-saving assistance.  

© UNICEF Somalia/2012/Abdulle
Women and children queue outside an outpatient therapeutic clinic in Mogadishu. The centre is run by local NGO SAACID, with support from UNICEF.

The water-nutrition connection

Safe water is still one of the most difficult commodities to come by in Somalia, despite the above-average rains during the last rainy season.  The scarcity of this essential resource continues to challenge the health of all Somalis. Women and children are hit particularly hard, especially in areas experiencing continued food insecurity and conflict.
Falastin lives with her three young children in a displacement camp in the Tarabuunka area . She recently arrived from Jowhar, Middle Shabelle , having been displaced by fighting in the area. “We were fearful for our lives,” she said. “Everyone was saying there would be fighting and bombardments.”

This is the fourth time she has visited this OTP to follow-up on the health of her malnourished child. The centre receives between 350 and 400 children per day, and has a staff of 20. They are supported by various organizations, including UNICEF, focusing on basic nutritional and medical care. Their work includes raising awareness about the importance of hand-washing and other good hygiene practices to protect against illness and malnutrition.
“The link between bad hygiene behaviour and illness, including malnutrition, is very clear,” explained Nancy Balfour, UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Somalia.  “Attempts to achieve household food security have failed in many areas because people, especially children under five, are repeatedly sick with diarrhoea and cannot absorb the food they are given.”

© UNICEF Somalia/2012/Abdulle
A woman watches while her child is evaluated for malnutrition at an Outpatient Therapeutic Programme in Mogadishu, Somalia. The centre sees hundreds of children each day.

Education is key

For SAACID, getting the word out about hygiene means getting the word out about water. Safe water makes all the difference, but it is not easy to access in makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of people.
Once patients are discharged from UNICEF-supported OTP facilities, they should receive a package of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) items including buckets, soap and water purification tabs. “The WASH items we provide include soap and water containers,” said Abdullahi Hassan Sahal, SAACID coordinator for Hodan District . “We also demonstrate to them how to properly wash their hands.”
A SAACID outreach team also visits the camps to educate families about household water purification and safe storage, teaching them how to properly wash their hands and maintain good hygiene.
“As well as WASH facilities, the education is key,” explained Ms. Balfour. “That’s why we support awareness activities on the use of safe water and hygiene for patients in the nutrition centre, including lessons on water treatment techniques and hygiene practices in the household.”
The connection is clear: With fresh, safe water comes health for children, adults and entire communities. 



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