I am standing in the middle of a IDP camp in Mogadishu today surrounded by over a thousand IDPs crammed into the shell of a building heaving with desperation.
We hear the expression, “I’m lost for words” all the time - but this is the really the first I genuinely experienced this. For the full 30 minutes that I was at the camp I was unable to speak. In my 20 years of supporting Humanitarian work, I have never experienced this level of injustice and suffering. An injustice because Somalia is ravished by a conflict that continues to kill thousands of people who are as innocent of the fighting as you or me. An injustice because this disaster did not need to reach this scale - especially with tremendous wealth available in many of Somalia’s neighbouring countries and the Muslim world in general. And, it’s an injustice because we could all see this disaster in the making over the last few years and yet we have been powerless to stop its march.
In the camp, I met tiny Billay Hassan, a severely malnourished one year-old child who lost her mother to measles only days ago. The family was exhausted and weak after trekking from Dinso - a 200km journey that had taken four days on foot without proper food and water. Billay has now been cared for by her grandmother. She is the last surviving daughter of her three sisters and now Billay herself is unable to eat or drink and was on the brink of giving up her last tiny breath.
Her emaciated body was losing the battle to measles, high fever, diarrhoea and acute malnourishment. Her grandmother waited helplessly for Billay’s last moments. Can there be a greater horror than to have people are dying from preventable hunger and illness while the world looks on. Does Billay really live on the same planet as footballers who earn tens of thousands a week?
There was also Abdullai, a tiny one-year old who arrived from an agro-pastoralist village in Kuntawari in Lower Shabelle where 23 villagers had died from the drought. This little human being was carried 160km by his father for over five days and was now severely malnourished and de-hydrated. And, Abdul Aziz, who was two years old but only 6.8kg in weight and too weak to be vaccinated. He was severely malnourished and suffering from diarrhoea and measles – as he was too weak to be vaccinated.
The Islamic Relief team are trying their best to rescue Billay, Abdulai and Abdul Aziz by getting them the attention and treatment they so desperately need. May God grant them a full recovery.
During Ramadan many of us choose to fast out of faith and duty – yet
here we have a population who have no choice but to starve. And yet,
even when a little food arrives those that are not ill still observe
Ramadan and wait patiently for the breaking of their long fast.
I went on to visit Baraida Hospital where we met a group of Islamic
Relief doctors and nurses who had flown in from Canada. I thought that
we had seen in the worst of the suffering in the camps – but I was so
wrong. The building they called a hospital so called hospital was
bursting at the seams with doors and windows that were simply missing or
broken. The hospital was clearly struggling with the huge influx of
people and it was a relief to see that our volunteer medics were
helping. One of those volunteers is Huda who was born in the very same
hospital 22 years earlier. She left Somalia as child and has now
returned with IR to help the children whose lives hang by a thread.
Today we supported our team on the ground with the Ramadan food
distribution pack which contains essentials such as rice, sugar, cooking
oil and dates. Apart from a lack of food, the absence of basic
healthcare is killing so many people - in particular children.
During the famine of 1991, over 75% of the children who died in
Somali camps did so due to treatable illnesses or malnutrition. There is
great concern that without effective healthcare we could start to see a
repeat of these numbers.
Islamic Relief has started operating a number of mobile health
clinics which act as a first response – ensuring that the communities
get the heath care they need or are referred onwards.
But, in spite of our help, I can’t help but continually feel that we
are letting Somalia down and that the lack of resources and expertise is
causing pain, suffering and loss of life for millions.
Over the last couple of days we witnessed so much misery and so many
unbearable scenes - yet we know it is likely to get worse before it gets
any better. In fact, we were spared from the worst of the drought and
famine which is in areas that I was unable to visit, such as Bay, Bakool
and Lower Shabelle.
Although Islamic Relief is focusing its efforts to get people the
help they need in all these areas, whatever we do is not enough and more
help is always needed.
I left Mogadishu full of sadness yet also with admiration for
those who strive against all the odds with dignity and contentment; for
those who share their small rations of food with families, friends,
neighbours and strangers.
In this tsunami of despair, it is these glimmers of hope that must
inspire us all to struggle alongside those who are vulnerable, poor and
weak and reminds ourselves that it is those that have little or nothing
that are the most generous – and, in this regard, the wealthiest.
Mogadishu / Ramadan