Aid Worker Diary: Striving to save lives in Baidoa
Sarah* has been a humanitarian aid worker in Somalia for the last 15 years. In the last decade, Somalia has been affected by crises and disasters including famine, floods and conflict.
Today, although famine conditions no longer exist in Somalia, more than 2 million people face food shortages and over a quarter of a million children are malnourished.
Sarah, one of the few international aid workers living in the south of the country, is helping people to gain access to emergency aid and, in the long term, to the means to support themselves.
In this interview, Sarah talks about her life as an aid worker in Baidoa–an area in the Bay region that was under Al-Shabaab control until February 2012. Although humanitarian access and response have improved in the last few months, nearly half of the population is still short of food and water, and lacks basic medical services.
Q: What is the situation in Baidoa?
A: People are very poor and have enormous needs. When you are in Baidoa, you sometimes see people dying in front of your eyes. You don’t have the luxury to waste time thinking about when and how to intervene; you have to act immediately to help them. At the moment, there is so much food in the market, but people are not able to buy it. They don’t have money. This is like starving while looking at a full plate.
Q: What is the most challenging situation you have faced in Somalia?
A: It was when I had to leave Baidoa in 2009 (when Al-Shabaab seized the UN compound). I was so worried for the families I was going to leave behind. I was not sure they would survive without assistance. I knew that once humanitarian agencies left, it would take years for them to come back. I still have many bad moments, moments of frustrations in Somalia because the humanitarian community does not manage to do enough to save all the lives I wish we could save.
For example, there is a hospital in Xudur, in Bakool region, that did not have medicine for years. We struggled and finally managed to get medical supplies there recently. Doctors managed to treat so many sick people, but now there is no money to pay for fuel for a little generator that would enable doctors to continue to perform much-needed operations. People walk for days from their villages to reach the hospital, and when they get there sometimes they cannot be assisted because there is no electricity. Just US$450 a month is all we would need to enable doctors to operate.
There are hundreds of malnourished children in Baidoa and many more live in the surrounding areas. As soon as humanitarians had more freedom to operate in Baidoa, the nutrition centre started treating about 20 malnourished children a day. It is a good achievement, but we have to remember that there are still hundreds of malnourished children who do not have access to our centres because their parents don't have enough money to pay for transport to Baidoa. I would like us to be able to reach those children as well, as soon as we can. Baidoa attracted quite a lot of attention in the beginning of the year when Al-Shabaab left and humanitarian access in the area improved. I hope the attention will translate into a significant increase in the humanitarian response for the people in need.
Q: What is your hope for the future of Somalia?
A: It will take time to get back to normality. What I see is a big need for the youth to be given an alternative to fighting and violence. Many young people have known nothing else but fighting in their lives, and they need to be taught what reconciliation is. And they need jobs and hope for a decent future.
*not her real name.
Reporting by OCHA Somalia