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Emergency - Diary from Tsunami-hit area

© UNICEF Somalia
Bob McCarthy (right) and Alhaji Bah, head of UNICEF activities in Northeast Somalia.

Field diary from Hafun, Northeast Somalia

UNICEF Somalia Emergency Officer, Robert (Bob) McCarthy made the observations below on 9 and 10 January 2005 during a visit to Hafun village, one of the worst affected locations by the tsunami which hit Somalia on 26 December 2004, . Bob who was part of a UN relief team wrote the diary from a tent hardly some 300 metres from the shore where about two weeks earlier, the tsunami had struck leaving chaos in its wake.

9 January 2005, 21.00 hrs, Hafun.

I arrived by UN Cessna Caravan flight at mid-day. There was a quick briefing with the on-ground UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) teams on the latest situation. Briefing was also for the benefit of journalists who came in on the same flight. On the flight to Hafun, one British Broadasting Corporation (BBC) journalist took no offense on being told how the British navy bombarded Hafun then under Italian occupation in World War Two.

That the tsunami wrought devastation on the shoreside village is starkly apparent. It is remarkable how the Indian Ocean community can be so commonly affected even on opposite ends.  A girl, Fatima, tells us how they were in class when they heard the commotion, people shouting that late morning when the waves hit.  Class ended abruptly and the kids all ran.

The people of Hafun seem remarkably calm - reassured (we think) by the presence of the agencies - after so many years of neglect and isolation.  One woman at a water point said that "even during the UNOSOM period (the UN Operation in Somalia in the early '90s) we never got this type of help."

I am so impressed by our Somali national staff from the Bossaso (Northeast Somalia) office who have responded most professionally to this crisis at a time most of the international staff were on holiday.  This is the latest in a series of natural disasters our Northeast Zonal team has responded to over the past year - drought, cyclone, floods, fires and now, the tsunami.

It is time for sleep, my tent located a few metres from displaced families in their shelters, all of us perhaps 300 metres from the shore - hopefully no more tsunamis on their way.

© UNICEF Somalia
Mother and child outside UNICEF-provided shelter.

10 January 2005, Hafun, 20:00 hrs

Today we looked at water supply problems and possible solutions: how to access clean drinking water in larger quantities, more locally and at reduced cost. We drove up the coast a few kilometres then inland along a dry river bed to a point where installation of a shallow well with submersible pump could resolve the task at hand within 7-10 days provided we can fly in the required jack hammers to break through a layer of rocks.No more 92km water trucking! ** (Editor's note: Since the tsunami, UNICEF and partners had been trucking water from 92 km away previously given that area water sources were contaminated)

We met with representatives of the Somali Red Crescent Society and agreed on a framework for cooperation on public health issues - disposal of trash and debris, community mobilization, promotion of hygiene awareness, etc.

We made a point of visiting as many clusters of displaced families as possible to corroborate our own assumptions on what we've been planning in the emergency response.  The people of Hafun are remarkably composed.  Morover, children are playing, singing and seemingly happy; not a bad indicator.Lunch and dinner included fresh caught tuna and the eternal pasta.  One tries not to think of the countless bags of pasta and rice we found rotting in the sun among the ruined houses.

In the evening a four-year old boy came up to us and asked in a cheerful inquisitive tone whether "the movies are showing tonight?"  He was referring to the jounalists' evening editing of their camera work.  Not sure if he came back.




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