The long road to Mogadishu

Anarchy, violence and corruption – a civil war has been rampaging Somalia for more than two decades. On top of this, the country has been experiencing a severe famine. The people living there are currently suffering one of the worst droughts of the past 60 years. Our team left for Mogadishu in August. The Somalian capital is known as one of the most dangerous places in the world. Only very few foreign aid workers risk coming here. There are no government structures and since the interim government is effectively powerless the country is being governed by rivalling clans. Too many heavily armed men can be seen on the streets. According to Volker Rath, a Cap Anamur logistics specialist who has helped establish this aid project, his impressions are: „The city is not safe. But still, thousands of people come here hoping to find something to eat and medical care. They hope for support from the supposed government as well as from the wealthy people in this world.“

There are no known numbers as to how many of the Somalian refugees die on their arduous journey to Mogadishu. Most of them walk at night, under the cover of darkness, for hours, days or even weeks on end. Once they finally arrive, they find the entryways to the capital blocked by rebels. The ones that nevertheless manage to get through are then brought to already overcrowded makeshift refugee camps. Mr. Rath talked to many refugees on his evaluation visit. He particularly remembers one mother who set out on her way to Mogadishu with her five children, arriving in the city with only two of them. The other three had died on the way.

Since the beginning of August, Cap Anamur has been helping in Benadir Hospital, situated in the almost completely destroyed capital, working in the four pediatric units. Luckily, within only a few days, several of our staff members with crisis experience volunteered and were able to travel to Somalia on short notice. Furthermore, we were able to organize the transport of medical supplies from neighbouring Kenya within days as well. Despite her experiences in Angola and Liberia, 34-year old nurse Yasmin Hiller is shocked by the situation at the hospital. Unfortunately, the fight for the lives of her little patients is not always successful. „I have seen so many dead children, it is enough for several lifetimes.“, she says. „The children suffer from malnutrition, they are dehydrated, their immune system is weakend. Getting malaria or the measles in addition to this is simply too much.“

Each day there are about 100 newly admitted patients whose treatment cannot be postponed. The pediatric unit, which comprises 220 beds, has nowhere near enough space, even though each bed is shared by two children. „Due to the lack of space we try to treat the less severe cases via outpatient care“ says Cap Anamur physician Dr. Markus Hohlweck. „Additionally we have tents that can house up to 50 patients.“ With the help of our donors we were able to set up an intensive care unit in which at least some of the most critical cases can be continuously monitored. The high need for antibiotics, infusions and other materials already necessitated further transports from Nairobi.

However, the highest strain for our aid workers consists in the sheer number of patients, which is almost impossible to handle, leading to our team working up to the point of exhaustion. For security reasons, the aid workers live on hospital premises, thus being easily approachable. „The premises are being monitored by a security firm, but still, there are no guarantees“, says Volker Rath. „We notice the fighting flaring up time and again with great respect, since this effectively minimises our mobility within Mogadishu. We were shocked by the attack with over 100 casualties at the beginning of October. Simultaneously, events like these support the importance of our mission: we want to show those in need that there are people here helping them on-site without bureaucratic hurdles.

Somalia – a failed state

Since the overthrow of the authoritarian regime in 1991, civil war has been waging in Somalia. The internationally recognized interim government only controls a small part of the disintegrated country, there is no functioning national government. Instead, the country is in the hands of warlords, local clans and radically islamistic groups, that use the people’s hunger as an instrument of power.

Due to the fighting becoming more intensive once more, possibilities for foreign humanitarian aid continue to become worse and worse. The country is at peril of being even further engulfed in a permantent humanitarian crisis. Cap Anamur has been helping in Somalia with two missions already, from 1980 until 1994 and 1999 until 2001, respectively.