UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
SOMALIA: IRIN Focus on vulnerability in Bay and Bakol
[This IRIN report does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN]
BAIDOA, 18 October (IRIN) - On the military front, an uneasy calm currently prevails in Bay and Bakol regions, which have been among the worst-hit in almost a decade of conflict in Somalia. But the cumulative impact of conflict, together with continuing drought and successive poor harvests, has left 300,000 people in need of urgent relief and some 73,000 acutely affected in the most vulnerable areas.
The Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) militia recaptured Baidoa in June from rival militia leader Hussein Aideed's forces, with what has been consistently reported as substantial Ethiopian support. It has since managed to restore a good measure of security and stability to its area of control. A recent humanitarian assessment mission to Bay and Bakol warned the main danger now would be that without adequate and immediate assistance, "there will be mass displacement and severe food shortage".
In Bay region, poor crop production, poor water and pasture, and depleted resources have been described as the "main risk factors" by the inter-agency Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU). It has estimated the food gap - the level of food shortage adjusted to account for people's coping mechanisms - at 7,234 mt, for 37 percent of the region's population.
In Bakol region, which is more dependent on livestock, severe water, pasture and fodder shortages have seen herd sizes drop to critical levels, FSAU reported, adding that some 36 percent of the population is considered food insecure, with a total of 2,472 mt of food relief needed to the end of the year.
Surveys in Baidoa and Burhakaba have shown global malnutrition
rates of 21.6 percent and 28 percent respectively for
children under-five. UNICEF Resident Programme Officer
in Baidoa, Jonathan Veitch, told IRIN that localised
rates in rural areas and places with a high concentration
of internally displaced people (IDPs) were likely to
be as high as 40 percent. Recent stability has brought
an increasing number of these displaced people back
to Bay and Bakol, most with precious few resources.
Dr Abbas, the only doctor in Baidoa hospital, the main facility in a catchment area of some 200,000 people, told IRIN that while most of his patients had gunshot wounds or had been in motor accidents, almost all were also malnourished. "I don't know the numbers, but many malnourished people are coming in ... almost everyone is malnourished," he said. Many were also suffering tuberculosis (TB) as a secondary condition, he added. Veitch said virtually every family had at least one child with TB and there was an urgent need for specialist health agencies to become engaged in the region.
The UN's interest in such re-engagement - throughout Bay, Bakol and the rest of Somalia - given minimum conditions of stability and security was emphasised in Baidoa last week by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello. He told a delegation from the RRA administration that by visiting Bay and Bakol, he was reasserting that they could count on UN support, "as long as they behave in a responsible manner and put the interests of their people above all other considerations".
The scale of the task facing humanitarian agencies is substantial. While statistics are inadequate to determine exact levels of health, informed medical opinion suggests that both morbidity and mortality rates are on the increase - the most common diseases being malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and tuberculosis.
The general food situation in Bay and Bakol has been significantly worsened by the closure of the road to Mogadishu. That closure, apparently being implemented by the RRA, though the reasoning is not clear, forces the transport of commodities by circuitous routes through Dinsor or Belatwein, over five days instead of straight to the capital in a two-hour journey. The continuing devaluation of the Somali shilling, largely as a result of the injection into the economy by Hussein Aideed of millions of shillings printed in Canada, has also weakened people's purchasing power significantly.
Two months after the 'gu' harvest, the price of a bag of sorghum has almost doubled, reaching between SSh 80,000 and 100,000 in the worst-affected areas of Bay and Bakol, according to the inter-agency assessment mission. With a majority of people having harvested little, expensive purchased food will be the major source in the coming weeks and months - unless substantial food relief is made available.
Increased activity by the poor in the sale of 'bush products' (firewood, charcoal and construction poles) has been noted, and a UNICEF official told IRIN in Baidoa that rapid deforestation - throughout Somalia - for firewood, sale and to clear land for cultivation was piling up serious environmental problems for the future.
While drought is endemic to the heavily-rain dependent regions of Bay and Bakol, people's ability to achieve basic needs in shelter, access to safe water, health and education has been seriously undermined by the civil strife which has brought about the collapse of the state and social services, destruction of productive infrastructure and depletion of resources, humanitarian sources told IRIN.
The current situation "is not a disaster across the board" because assistance had been delivered "before the situation got really dire," yet there remain pockets of vulnerability where the situation is very serious, according to Veitch. "Migration of displaced people into urban areas would be a real problem - the pressure on the urban population is great enough already," he added.
What is needed, humanitarian agencies agree, is rapid relief to save lives in pockets of intense vulnerability, followed quickly by rehabilitation efforts to preserve livelihoods and avoid a wider humanitarian crisis.
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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