A day in the life: Saving lives in drought-hit Somalia

By: 
CARE
Amrea talks to a group of women on one of her field visits

World Humanitarian Day 2017: Amrea’s story

Amrea Shire, CARE’s Emergency Programme Manager in Somalia, gives an insight into what it’s like working in a country devastated by drought.

6:00am

My days never look the same. The only consistency to be found in my daily routine is that I spend a lot of my time travelling. An average of six to seven hours per day I am on the road. As CARE’s Emergency Programme Manager, I go to different sites where our work takes place to organise field distributions, manage cash-for-work activities or verify beneficiary lists.

My days start off early in the morning, since most of our work happens in remote areas. I try to eat something small before heading out as the sun rises.

IDP camp in Ainabo, Somaliland
A camp for people displaced from their homes by the drought, Ainabo, Somaliland

On my recent mission I visited 35 villages in the Sool region, one of the most drought-affected areas in Somalia, to work together with the government in identifying the most vulnerable households to receive food vouchers and cash assistance.

This is a tough job. So many people are in need of assistance yet we don’t have the resources to assist all.

This is why I have to make sure we strictly follow the criteria we have set out and prioritise the most vulnerable.

How big is the family? How many of them are children? Are there any elderly people in the household or pregnant and lactating women? Do the families have any other means of support?

These are all things I need to consider, when I speak to people at the screening site.

8:00am

Once I get to the field location my real work starts. But hold on, my phone is ringing! One of the community leaders in a different village calls. One of the women in his settlement needs immediate support for her 18-month-old child, Abdi.

The little boy was already suffering from malnutrition and then started having diarrhoea.

Given that water was so scarce, his mother Nasteexo and the children consumed whatever water they could find, and it seems they may have drunk dirty water.

I refer them to a nutrition centre for women and children run by CARE in the nearest town of Bosaso.

A child's arm measured for malnutritrion
A boy has his arm measured for signs of malnutrition at a camp for displaced people camp in Bosaso

Usually, our health workers would first weigh Abdi, then measure his height and the circumference of his arm, which would tell them the level of his malnutrition.

Anything under 11 cm is considered severely malnourished. I was later told Abdi’s arm measured at under 10.

The health workers sent Nasteexo home with a week’s supply of nutritional support for both Abdi and his sister Yasmin, who was also malnourished. They directed them to come back to the centre weekly to monitor the children’s progress and get another week’s supply of Plumpy Nut, a peanut-based nutritional supplement used to treat severely malnourished children.

10:00am

In some of the hardest-hit villages, we have multiple projects running. And multiple projects usually means multi-tasking for me. While organising a food distribution, I usually also check on our existing activities. One of them is the cash-for-work project.

Cash-for-work project participants in Ainabo
People participating in the cash-for-work scheme at a camp for displaced people in Ainabo, Somaliland

A few weeks ago, we worked with a community in the Ainabo displacement camp, to determine how people can restart their livelihoods. We asked displaced people what kind of work would be of use to the community and looked at whether it was feasible.

Participants in the project receive US $100 for flexible working hours over 18 days, cleaning a waterhole so that rainwater can be preserved.

Not only does this help their communities; it also makes them feel needed and they can contribute to their own wellbeing.

1:00pm

It is lunch time but I usually only eat once I’m back in the guesthouse or office.

At one of the water points which CARE rehabilitated when most of the shallow wells dried up, I meet a mother from the nearby displacement camp. After losing all of her livestock and resources, she and her children used to walk for 1.5 hours each day to fetch water from a shallow well before she moved to the displacement camp.

Woman and shelters at IDP camp in Bosaso
Makeshift shelters at the Bosaso camp for internally displaced people

That water turned out to be contaminated. Three of her children died from cholera. She told me:

The drought destroyed everything. I’m afraid it will also take my remaining children.

These stories hit me hard and stay with me for a long time. But they also serve as a reminder of why I do my job. Of why I need to work, why I need to grow and why I need to support people in my community.

3:00pm

I try to head back to the guesthouse or office before it gets dark. Although the security situation in Somaliland, an autonomous and self-declared state in Somalia, is better than in the rest of the country, I still have to be cautious. Attacks on aid workers can happen at any point and I am aware of that.

IDP camp in Bosaso, Somaliland
The camp for internally displaced people in Bosaso

7:00pm

My work day is still not over. Once I reach the guesthouse, I check my emails and see if there are any pending issues, such as reports to write or meetings to attend in the coming days. If my colleagues are there, I try to have dinner with them. It gives me a chance to speak about the things I observed and also about things that are not work related at all. Sometimes we watch TV together. It helps me unwind.

10:00pm

I usually fall into bed, tired and exhausted. Sometimes I find it hard to sleep.

What if the parents I met lost all their children? Who will support everyone?

These are some of the questions that haunt me. On other days, I sleep quite peacefully, knowing that the work I did today made a difference. I set my alarm to 6:00am again and I can’t wait for the next day to start.

Woman collecting water in Somaliland
Women and children collecting clean water from one of the shallow wells CARE has rehabilitated in Ainabo

How CARE is helping people in Somalia

In the midst of a horrific drought, over 6.7 million people are in need of life-saving food and water in Somalia. The numbers of severely malnourished children are staggering, with 1.4 million malnourished children bearing the brunt of the drought. Some 40,000 of them have dropped out of school, as the most vulnerable families often send their children to search for water or migrate to towns. The drought has caused alarming levels of internal displacement with over 739,000 people displaced. Camps are becoming over-populated, putting women and girls at higher risk of sexual violence.

People in Somalia are struggling with multiple health problems, ranging from measles to acute malnutrition to suspected cholera, the deadliest of them all. Almost 50,000 cases of suspected cholera cases were reported from the beginning of the year. More than 600 people have died. Contaminated water sources are the main cause. CARE is providing cholera treatment kits in areas of Somalia where the highest number of cases are being reported. In efforts to prevent the spread of cholera, CARE has reached over 250,000 people with clean water, hygiene education and water purification tablets.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.