Driving through the streets of downtown Mogadishu, waves lap against the legs of a child playing in the stagnant waters of last night’s torrential rains. Behind him stands the ruins of the Italian cathedral, built over 80 years previously, now a mere shell after an artillery attack from militant group Al-Shebab.
In the crumbling ruins of Vishio Governo, the Italian Governor’s former offices opposite the cathedral, a swathe of internally displaced persons have arrived, their domed shelters filling the courtyard and alleyways.
Over two hundred families have settled here, fleeing the drought that ravaged their native Bay region, 265km outside of Somalia’s war-torn capital. The suffering they bring with them is devastating, sitting in their sodden shelters, mothers cradling shivering, skeletal infants. In a cruel twist of irony, having fled an area where the absence of rains decimated their livelihoods, it is now the abundance of rain that poses their greatest risk.
One mother, Hawa, describes how she watched her entire livelihood, her 20 goats, die, before losing two of her children. She, her husband and their three remaining children then set out on a fifteen day journey, coming to Mogadishu, hoping for aid. That was two weeks ago, and yesterday, she lost her third child. Sitting in front of her make-shift home, she cradles one of her two surviving children, who is desperately ill from severe malnutrition, too.
Hawa’s devastating story is not unique. I only had the chance to meet a handful of the families there, but three of the mothers I met had lost a child the previous day alone, and many more were cradling fragile infants.
With no sanitation in the camp, the standing water from the previous night’s heavy rains could induce a health crisis for the already weak families living here. They have little food, no clean water, and the threat of water-borne diseases looms heavily. Many children are already suffering from acute diarrhoea, exacerbating cases of malnutrition. And some have visible signs of parasites such as worms.
Concern are about to build some latrines, and they are issuing what medical supplies they have in their stores. Many of the shelters built here are now covered in the grey plastic sheeting from the NFI (non-food items) kits they have provided. But to alleviate the suffering of the people here, a larger, more concerted effort needs to be delivered. Something that is not easy in the humanitarian space that Mogadishu ill affords.
I don’t think I have ever seen suffering on the scale of what I witnessed today. The Somalis are an incredibly resilient people, but right now, they are being pushed to their limit.