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Somalia eyes development but urgent humanitarian needs remain-MSF

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 13 Feb 2013 05:34 PM
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LONDON (AlertNet) - The Somali government's focus may be on longer-term development projects but it should not allow the urgent needs of ordinary people to slip off the radar, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Wednesday.

The news from Somalia has been relatively positive of late. The United States has formally recognised the government in Mogadishu for the first time in 20 years. Somalia is due to benefit from the European Union's biggest development aid programme for the country. Even pirate attacks are falling in frequency.

However, MSF said the humanitarian crisis in Somalia is far from over and many thousands of people still need life-saving assistance.

"It's good to plan for hospitals and drinking water supplies and roads, but while the planning is going on, people still have (urgent) needs, especially because there have been virtually no public services in the last 20 years," Gautam Chatterjee, head of mission for MSF in Somalia, told AlertNet.

Life for many Somalis remains fragile following a severe hunger crisis in 2011, which resulted in mass displacement and families having to sell their livestock to survive.

The government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud - who took office last year after the first vote of its kind since Somalia slid into civil war in 1991 - is still battling an Islamist insurgency with the help of African Union peacekeepers.

In a report released on Wednesday, based on the testimony of more than 800 Somali patients, MSF said violence, displacement and food shortages were still features of everyday life for many.

"If the focus of the international community is to drop from Somalia than the crisis is going to deepen and the humanitarian consequences are going to be immense," Chatterjee said.

One 25-year-old woman from Lower Juba told MSF she had been displaced 10 times. Her husband had been killed in an attack and two of her children had died because she could not feed them.

"I try to stay strong but this situation that our country has been facing for too long is killing us," MSF quoted her as saying.

Twenty-nine percent of the 820 people interviewed by MSF - in parts of south-central Somalia and a refugee camp in Ethiopia - said food shortages were the main problem.

Twenty-eight percent said displacement and being separated from other members of the family caused the highest level of suffering.

One third of Somalia's population of 7.5 million are uprooted from their homes, MSF said. An estimated 1.3 million are internally displaced, 1 million are refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen, and thousands more are on the move.

One 28-year-old man described fleeing Somalia to escape being forced to join one of many armed groups in Mogadishu. "I feel naked without my family. My wife is alone with our three children. I'm an irresponsible father but I had no choice," he said.

For Somali women, there is the ever-present risk of sexual violence. MSF said the list of perpetrators included relatives, men in the same community, members of criminal gangs, government officials and fighting forces.   

"We live in fear," said a 23-year-old woman from Bay in southern Somalia. "Security is bad and we are constantly hungry. Would you call this a life?"

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