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Somali town welcomes aid from ShelterBox

© UNICEF Somalia/001-07-06/RKihara
One of the ShelterBox tents donated to a family in an IDP camp in Merka, Central Somalia.

By Robert Kihara*

Merka, Central Somalia, August 2006 - Leaders in Merka have thanked ShelterBox, a UK organization for donating tents to families in internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps. Speaking to representatives of ShelterBox in late July, they urged the organization to inform the UK and international communities that the town of Merka is open to support from humanitarian organizations interested in helping Somalis.

“We want the UN and UK flags to be on top of buildings and cars,” they said, “we are thankful to UNICEF for liaising with ShelterBox to provide tents with tools, clothing and utilities for the poorest in IDP camps,” said the Deputy Governor of Merka, Mohamed Ali Haji while speaking to ShelterBox representative, Joe Cannon. Mr Haji said it was reassuring that ShelterBox had delivered on their promises and followed up with a visit by their representative.

The Middle Shabelle regional administration said it welcomed the international community and private businesses to invest in the region and said that like most of Somalia, the region would benefit in terms of investment in the education, health and water sectors. “Tell the British not to forget Somalia,” said Mr Ali Haji. “Britain knows Somalia well and peace is going to be restored. Somali people are realizing the need for peace and need support from the UK, UN and the international community.” The members of the local administration said they were intent on working for peace to ensure improvement of living standards.

During the visit, ShelterBox representatives visited Merka Hospital, IDP camps, Ayub Orphanage and an agriculture school. Merka is about 90km south of Mogadishu. Dr Abdi Hersi who runs the hospital for COSV, an Italian NGO said two out of four doctors in Merka supported two other hospitals in Qoryole and Brava.

UNICEF supports Merka Hospital’s primary health care programme. The salaries for the 60 hospital staff are paid by COSV and donations from the local community and the Diaspora. UNICEF also provides incentives for staff. The hospital has no funds for X-ray and other key equipment and the quality of old equipment is deteriorating rapidly. Funds collected only meet basic costs for patients and though poorer patients get exemptions, the numbers of poor are increasing making it difficult to cope. Normal payments for services are about half a dollar per patient.

© UNICEF Somalia/002-07-06/RKihara
A girl takes a rest inside one of the ShelterBox tents donated to her family in an IDP camp in Merka, Central Somalia.

Common diseases reported are kwashiorkor, marasmus, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria, hypertension, chronic heart diseases and diabetes. The resources used to cater for poor patients are increasingly eating into the budget for hospital salaries. The hospital is an excellence centre for HIV treatment, control and prevention. It has a blood bank and voluntary counseling and testing centre for HIV/AIDS.

However, it needs a dental and eye care unit. It also hosts a vaccine storage facility. Fighting that occurred recently for control of Mogadishu left its facilities stretched. On average, the 100-bed facility receives about 100 patients a day. During the visit to the hospital in late July, Faduma Omar, 20, was nursing her son Mohamed Hassan, 2, who was down with kwashiorkor. Fadhia Ahmed, was also admitted with her daughter, Fadhuma Haji Mohamed who had measles.

Notwithstanding these odds, the Merka community (whose name sounds remarkably close to America) extended an open hand to the international community to help it. Among the infrastructural needs is the construction of a good road network between it and Mogadishu with the current one in a very poor state. The town has a scenic seafront which under ideal conditions could provide growth opportunities for the tourism industry.

UNICEF is also providing school tents (Alorunda tents from Norway) to serve as classrooms. About 100 tents that can accommodate about 40 children each will be put up in 10 regions of Central/Southern Somalia. The school tents each of which costs $2000 to $3,000 (different from the ShelterBox tents which are small and for single families) are easier to put up, cheaper and cooler. A tent takes three days to put up given that their foundation does not require going very deep.

Most residents of IDP camps in Merka depend on subsistence livelihoods that include selling charcoal. UNICEF has so far provided about 30 ShelterBox tents to families in Merka. ShelterBox representative Mr Cannon promised to follow up on requests for other assistance made by the Merka community though he gave no commitments. The tents come with various household items including utensils, sleeping bags and tools.

*Robert Kihara is Assistant Communication Officer, UNICEF Somalia. Email: rkihara@unicef.org.



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