After decades of conflict, Somalia’s health system is barely functioning: as a result, the countryhas one of the world’s highest child mortality rates. One in five children does not reach their fifth birthday, while those who do survive face grave challenges for their growth and development.
Save the Children has worked in Somalia for the last four decades, delivering life-saving services to thousands of children and their families.
In Puntland, in the north east, where there’s been a relative improvement in the security situation in recent years, we are working closely with the Ministry of Health to get the local health system working better, so that children can access basic health services.
Access to Somalia can be difficult, but a tropical cyclone that hit the north-east of the country in early November made matters worse.
The storm caused torrential rain and flash floods that submerged villages and wiped away bridges, cutting off vital supply routes along the country’s main highway. Communities in this remote region depend on this highway for their survival. Supplies of essential drugs are already a problem, and will now be even more so.
Last month, I visited Puntland ‘s capital, Garowe, to support our child survival programme and help strengthen our partnerships. On our first attempt, the runway was closed due to torrential rain, and the plane full of disappointed aid workers had to return to Kenya and repeat the long journey from Nairobi the following day.
The cyclone mostly affected coastal communities, with flash floods isolating them, particularly in the Karkaar region in Puntland, making access even more difficult.
Casualties were limited but as well as the crucial supply routes affected, the destruction of fishing boats and livestock was reported to have disrupted the livelihoods of thousands of families.
The worst possible timing
There is no good time for a cyclone but this one was particularly unfortunate, chronologically, striking two days after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and parts of South East Asia. The scale of destruction in the Philippines and the lack of access, information and imagery from Puntland meant that the latter emergency was largely overlooked and under-reported.
The government of Puntland has declared a state of emergency, and as I left Garowe, some international aid was starting to arrive on planes sent by Ethiopia and Djibouti – the only two countries to have responded so far.
Meanwhile, Save the Children and other international agencies are supporting communities in their areas of operation with whatever resources are to hand. It is not straightforward to deliver relief goods, yet despite the challenges, our staff, together with the village health workers we support, continue to do everything they can to bring help to those in need.