You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Photo Essay: Red Cross in Somalia

The severe drought has compounded the longstanding humanitarian crisis in Somalia caused by 20 years of armed conflict. This collection of photos, courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross, illustrates the extreme nature of the crisis and what the Red Cross is doing to help the struggling population.

With 2011 classified as the driest year on record in the eastern Horn of Africa, the health, livelihoods and food security of millions of Somalis, Ethiopians, Djiboutians and Kenyans are at serious risk. The American Red Cross announced on July 28 an initial pledge of $1 million for the evolving humanitarian crisis in eastern Africa, continuing its history of support to the region.

Struggling to Survive: Thousands of people have moved to Mogadishu in recent weeks hoping to find water and food. Only a minority manage to get a ride on one of the trucks going to the Somali capital. Many have to walk in the extreme heat of up to 104 degrees. It can take them up to one week to reach their destination. The severe drought, the effects of previous dry spells, high inflation and the worldwide rise in food and fuel prices have further aggravated the situation since the beginning of the year.

Sleeping in the Open: Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced within Somalia in search of shelter and food. Like here on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the majority live in the open or in makeshift camps. Many have been displaced more than once. They fled their homes due to fighting, returned and had to flee again when the next wave of violence set in or droughts and floods forced them to move. The displaced represent a heavy burden for the host communities that share their scarce resources, including water, pastures and firewood.

Battling Extreme Heat: In Somalia hot weather conditions prevail all year along with very little average rainfall in most regions even in normal seasons. The vegetation around Mogadishu is scarce and mainly consists of grass lumps, low bushes and low trees such as Acacias that can provide a bit of shade. Drinking water is still available, but only in low quantities. It can be found in boreholes and deep wells. People often walk several hours to reach a water source and internally displaced people often settle around them.

Holding Very Little: The displaced usually arrive with only very few and very basic belongings such as these water canisters. Most of them do not have anything left to sell and are therefore unable to generate income and to buy food. As a result, malnutrition rates are usually even higher among displaced people than among the general population. The combined effects of conflict, violence and natural disasters have exhausted a large percentage of the Somali population who is now no longer able to cope with these extreme living conditions.

Delivering Food: With financial support from the American Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has recently distributed food to 162,000 people in areas affected by drought and armed violence in southern and central Somalia. In Kurtunwarey, 21,000 people benefited from the distribution. It was the first large-scale food distribution in that part of the country since the beginning of the year.

Food distributions are integrated into a more sustainable approach with the aim of helping the population carry on their livelihoods with no outside help. Examples are irrigation schemes and other cash-for work projects to reduce farmers' vulnerability to extreme weather conditions.

Partnering With Local Groups: Each family received enough rice, beans and cooking oil to last them for one month. Women usually pick up the aid as they are in charge of the household. ICRC organizes the distributions together with Somali Red Crescent, local authorities and the elders of the communities. In the central and southern parts of the country especially, where only a small number of humanitarian organizations are present on the ground, the need for help is immense.

Providing Healthcare: Many displaced do not dare to return home, because of the prevailing insecurity and armed conflict, especially along the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders, and the lack of water and pastures. They prefer to stay in settlements which are usually organized by local authorities. In Sako, there are about 1,800 internally-displace families who arrived 6 to 8 months ago. They came looking for water and work on the surrounding farms. Many of their children are malnourished and enlisted in the Red Crescent therapeutic feeding program run in Sako. Three Red Crescent mobile health teams also travel to the surrounding areas every day, trying to reach those less fortunate who cannot make it to Sako for medical help.

Organizing More Aid: Organizing a food distribution takes at least four to six weeks. The food is mainly purchased in neighboring countries and then brought to southern Somalia from Kenya by truck or ship. The situation in Somalia is bound to get worse if the urgently needed help is not delivered soon. The Red Cross is planning to help over one million people bridge the gap until the next harvest in December.

Gifts to the American Red Cross will support our disaster relief efforts to help those affected by the drought and current humanitarian emergency in Horn of Africa. On those rare occasions when donations exceed American Red Cross expenses for a specific disaster, contributions are used to prepare for and serve victims of other disasters.