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February 2018

What difference does it make?

by Christine Anne Berger

How much effort does it take to deliver humanitarian relief to Somalis suffering from civil war and drought? LoveDornier228 takes a closer look at some of the logistical challenges the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) faces in Somalia.

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Xuddur’s landing strip is an open field with herds of camels, goats and sheep watering at boreholes located nearby. Football goal posts can also be spotted on the sides of the parched and arid field. (Photo: ICRC, Photographer Abdikarim Mohamed)

It is 0400 hours on a Monday morning at the ICRC regional delegation office in Nairobi, Kenya. A pilot prepares for another challenging mission: flying humanitarian relief workers and their mission critical supplies to one of the nine ICRC Somalia compounds. All the necessary authorities on the ground in Somalia have been notified in advance. All the green lights needed to clear the day’s take-offs and landings are “a go”. This must take place prior to every mission otherwise the mission is a “no go”.

The ICRC has been providing humanitarian aid in Somalia since 1977. Maintaining their neutral, impartial and independent principles can be challenging as the ICRC has to routinely encourage warring parties to respect International Humanitarian Law (IHL). They also help organize aid to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people looking for a home and help those displaced people regain a life in dignity. The aid itself ranges from medical relief, food and water to veterinarian assistance and building and helping the flow of economic life. The main challenge the ICRC faces today is that it requires people to deliver all this aid. And those people also need to be kept safe.

Somalis are mainly a nomadic people who depend on their animals for livelihood. Without their animals, they often cannot survive outside the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. An internally displaced person is someone who needs to flee his or her home but who remains within their country’s borders. Civil war, drought, Tsetse flies and other conditions have drastically reduced their livestock and the ability of the Somali people to live independently and with dignity. The Somalis priorities in life are thus water, their livestock, nutrition and food, followed by health care and lastly education. Helping Somalis stay out of the IDP camps requires putting effort into helping them help themselves and enabling them to care for their families despite the challenges civil war and drought has imposed on them.

“To help, without asking whom!” – Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910) Swiss philanthropist and founder of the Red Cross.

Jordi Raich, the current head of the ICRC Somalia Delegation says, “It’s a common but not correct assumption that things in Somalia were good before the war.” Even before the Somali civil war Somalia struggled with transitional government structures, leftover effects of colonization and the constant uprising of different fractions fighting for power. Somalia has been ravaged by civil war since 1991. The people’s lives are challenged weekly, sometimes daily, by violent events amplified by two years of severe drought. For example, Jordi explains that on any day a bomb can explode in the market, “there is chaos for a few minutes and then life goes back to normal within the hour.” When asked what it is like then to walk down the street or to take a stroll? Jordi states, “We don’t just walk down the street.” Communication Coordinator Layal Horanieh explains that when they need to leave the compound for such things as meetings, providing clinic support, IHL training, detention visits, food distributions and training agricultural cooperatives they must do it safely. Safe traveling for the humanitarian workers here means being protected by private security companies. “When we do travel to provide aid, it can be done by land or air; however, you cannot go anywhere by land because of rampant unrest. We do transport a lot by truck but it’s very expensive to lease the truck and ensure its protection around the clock. This can sometimes be more expensive than leasing a plane.”

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Internally displaced camp near Galkayo town in Mudug Region, Somalia. (Photo: CR NORVÈGE, Photographer Olav A. Saltbones)

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Pilot Tony Ngare makes a routine check of the plane shortly after landing at the Dhobley airstrip in Somalia. (Photo: ICRC, Photographer Abdikarim Mohamed)

Air transportation in Somalia is essential in the providing of aid of over 1.1 million internally displaced people (UN Refuge Agency, December 22, 2014). Layal recalls being a passenger on a transport plane, “the pilot is not just a pilot. He manages all aspects of the trip and is an integral part of the team, the ICRC family and our work in Somalia.” They protect everyone and everything on board and to do this they must be in charge and as Layal says, “everyone respects their protocol willingly.” Pilots with experience in these extreme hazardous zones are crucial to the ICRC. One safety measure Air Operations Manager Morgan Babin takes is insuring that he has experienced knowledgeable pilots flying ICRC missions. The safety and security of all ICRC air missions in Somalia are his primary concern.

Morgan also leases aircraft and hires pilots from Kasas Limited in Niarobi, Kenya, for critical missions deep into Somalia. Kasas delivers the necessary experience and capabilities required on such missions. They offer various fixed wing air support solutions including long-term aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) leases, “wet” leases, “dry” leases and ad-hoc charters for passengers or cargo. The planes and pilots cannot and do not stay in Somalia when they transport. They must return to Kenya after each flight. Therefore, the proper planning for the number of hours pilots are on mission duty, the lack of ground and maintenance support for crew and aircraft in Somalia and the timing plays an integral part in each mission. Morgan must also factor in local field security reports when planning.

Critical Humanitarian Relief Missions

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Internally displaced persons camp in Puntland, Garowe. (Photo: CR NORVÈGE, Photographer Olav A. Saltbones)

To fly critical missions to the villages of Xudur, Dhobley and Bardera, the ICRC regularly uses the Dornier 228. The missions require flying a round-trip of 2,000 kilometers, with a large part over territories of unrest and landing on rough gravel and dirt strips. So, before the mission is “a go” all warring parties and locals in the area must first agree that the ICRC can fly over certain territories and go into the designated area without being harmed. This takes special negotiation efforts facilitated by the ICRC.

The Red Cross emblem is attached to the aircraft before each flight and is recognized for the most part, but it wasn’t long ago when robbers were waiting on landing strips to jump in and steal the possessions of the people aboard the plane. Layal reflects and says, “even today everyone on the plane is aware of the potential danger.” One of Morgan’s responsibilities is making sure he picks the right plane for the right job. Morgan explains that his experienced pilots sometimes do a fly over of the runway first to scare off any animals and to check who is around. However, usually his ground team manages to clear the runway first as part of their safety procedures. There are extra efforts put in on all sides to deliver the much-needed aid transported by the plane.

“ICRC Somalia is about team work and solidarity. We are like family,” sums up Layla. So, what difference does it make whether the ICRC family is in Somalia or whether a pilot flies at 0400 hours in the morning with humanitarian workers over territories of heavy unrest in Somalia? What difference does it make that a local relief worker helps clean off the runway so the veterinarian can bring a vaccine to the animals? What difference does it make that food and medical supplies are brought to the distant villages of Somalia? To the Somalis seeking to live their lives in dignity, it makes a world of difference.

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A cyclone forced some 10,000 Somali families to flee their homes in Puntland. The ICRC distributed food as well as essential household items. ICRC teams and Somali Red Crescent Society volunteers unload a truck at a distribution site. (Photo: ICRC, Photographer Fatuma Abdullahi)

In 2017, ICRC Somalia assisted 1,433,205 million people with food, water and health services including building water wells, reeducating people who have lost their animals and reuniting families who have been separated by war. In addition, they have also conducted 19 visits to 13 places of detention to monitor the living conditions and treatment of over 2,150 detainees. Visits carried out provide a multi-disciplinary response integrating a health component (training of health staff, support to prison infirmaries), water and sewage systems maintenance and the distribution of hygiene items in addition to vocational training programs in carpentry, sewing and masonry.

For more information visit http://blogs.icrc.org/somalia/

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