“I don’t have my own house and my children can’t go out and play as I have to watch over them every minute,” she told UNHCR staff during an aid distribution last weekend at the congested Al Adala settlement in Mogadishu. “This is not the life I wanted for my children, but I’m here now. I have to hope for the best.”
Al Adala, located just five minutes from Mogadishu’s international airport, sprung up earlier this year as tens of thousands of people in south and central Somalia descended on the capital to seek assistance and to escape from drought, famine and fighting. The spontaneous settlement, one of several in Mogadishu, is now home to more than 13,000 of these internally displaced people.
They desperately need international help at a time when Somalia is reeling from the worst drought in more than half-a-century amid continuing conflict. UNHCR has this month organized three aid airlifts, bringing more than 100 tonnes of relief items for the people of Al Adala and other sites in and around Mogadishu, where an estimated half-a-million displaced people need help.
Kadija explained the choice that faced her family in the Diisnor district to the north-west of Mogadishu. “We just had to leave. If we had stayed we probably wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “We lost our 40 cows and our three hectares of land hadn’t produced crops like sorghum or maize for so long. Our granary ran so low that we no longer had food to eat.”
It was difficult to go. “Diinsoor is where I was born, where I grew up and where I started my own family, so it was definitely hard to leave. As we didn’t have much money, we had to walk,” explained Kadija, who left with her husband and three of her children. Her eldest daughter stayed behind to look after her grandmother.
The family took two days to make their way to Baidoa, capital of the Bay region and located about some 250 kilometres north-west of Mogadishu. En route, they saw many children dying of starvation. “It pained me to hear my own children crying out for food,” she recalled. “I was more determined than ever to get to Mogadishu, where I knew my children would have a chance of surviving.”
In Baidoa, Kadija and her family managed to hitch a ride on a truck which took three days to get to Mogadishu, negotiating road blocks put up by armed militiamen and other challenges along the way.
Mogadishu is also full of armed men, including youths driving around in pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in the back. Men in military fatigues, with belts of ammunition wrapped around their skinny bodies, patrolled the streets around the airport and Al Adala as UNHCR distributed the airlifted aid.
They appeared on edge; swivel-eyed and clutching their weapons as if expecting something bad to happen. Apparently oblivious to the tension, young Somali boys played and women sold groceries and vegetables from small shops, just getting on with life in a city that has been plagued by violence since 1991.
In Al Adala, there are so many people that it is difficult to make your way around the miserable, makeshift structures made of sticks, rags and cardboard that the displaced call home. Most are from famine-hit regions such as Gedo and Middle and Lower Shabelle. The cries of hungry children are a constant reminder of the life and death drama playing out in Somalia.
Most have not had a proper meal in days. Some lie helplessly beside their mothers, struggling to survive malnutrition or the infectious viral disease, measles. The older, stronger ones hang around their shelters waiting for the day to end and for sleep to transport them away from this hell for a few hours.
The aid flown in by UNHCR, including shelter materials and 30,000 emergency aid packages, will help alleviate the misery for some, but much, much more assistance is needed to prevent more deaths.
“The aid we are getting in is still not enough, but little by little we are making a difference,” said Bruno Geddo, UNHCR’s representative to Somalia. “The most important thing to do is to alleviate the biting famine that has crippled this country by getting in as much emergency aid as possible.”