Visiting Somalia, UNICEF Regional Director notes progress made on safe water
By Kun Li
BOSSASO, Somalia, 13 May 2010 – Bossaso, a busy port town on the northern coast of Somalia, is an economic hub in the semi-autonomous Puntland region. Tens of thousands of Somalia’s estimated 1.5 million internally displaced people live here, shielded from the intense heat only by cardboard and bits of rags.
Despite the poor living conditions, new displaced people continue to arrive every day, fleeing the conflict in central and southern parts of Somalia. Here in Bossaso, they find relative peace and occasional job opportunities. While their hardships were once compounded by a widespread lack of safe drinking water, a water extension project – supported by UNICEF and the European Union (EU) – is now helping the camps’ residents access safe water more easily.
Joining forces for water
Duing a visit to Bossaso this month, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elhadj As Sy inaugurated the new water supply system, which was initiated in 2008 at the onset of the UNICEF/EU project.
“Water is the main source of life, but it can also be a source of disease,” said Mr. As Sy. “So it is vitally important that families have access to safe water.”
On a nearby hillside stood a brand new 1,000 cubic metre water tank, along with a seven km pipeline. The extension to the town’s water system connects an additional 87,000 people, or 65 percent of the town’s population, to a safe drinking water supply.
The water system is maintained through an innovative partnership, in which local authorities, the community and the private sector all work together. A water board provides management of the water system. It also establishes affordable water rates, adds household connections, and ensures that water collection points are operated and maintained efficiently. Water is free to public institutions such as schools, hospitals and mosques.
“It is encouraging to see that if government leadership, community engagement, and support from the international community come together, we can ensure access to social services even under very difficult circumstances,” said Mr. As Sy. “The water project is just one example of what we can achieve together.”
Other critical needs
During his visit, Mr. As Sy also visited with some of the children, families and institutions benefitting from the water project.
At one primary school, Mr. As Sy heard children’s poems on mothers’ role in development, and their call for support for women and girls. With the current school enrolment of less than 40 per cent, most children in Puntland – especially girls – are at risk of growing up illiterate. UNICEF supports hundreds of primary schools across the region in an effort to ensure that all children receive a basic education.
The Regional Director also toured an outpatient therapeutic centre, known as ‘100 Bush,’ located in a Somali displaced persons camp.
To address the most critical needs here, UNICEF launched a community-based project in 2008 to care for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition – particularly those in the camps. Today the project works to refer malnourished children to either outpatient therapeutic care programmes or the stabilization centre in Bossaso hospital. Ready-to-use food such as Plumpy’nut, a nutrient-rich peanut paste, has been given to thousands of children.
Thanks to these combined interventions, malnutrition rates for children in Bossaso’s displacement camps have decreased significantly.
‘Great challenges’ remain
Mr. As Sy noted that, in the face of these and many other challenges, the Somali people continue to press on.
“It has been a humbling experience to see how resilient people can be in such a difficult environment,” he said. “How mothers always try to find the best possible way to feed their children, take care of them, and send them to school.”
“Despite these successes, however, we are faced with great challenges when it comes to providing basic infrastructure to the growing number of displaced people,” Mr. As Sy said. “All of this calls for us to influence policies, to create an enabling and peaceful environment…to care for the most vulnerable women and children in Somalia.”