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Thousands in Somalia’s war-torn capital, Mogadishu, live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many are displaced by the conflict, either within the city or from other parts of the country; but an increasing number of people are coming to the city as a result of the drought that is ravaging parts of the Horn of Africa.
Conditions in the camps are basic, with people living in metal shacks or in makeshift huts made of sticks, rags and plastic sheeting, lacking adequate sanitation. Many of the children I saw there were visibly malnourished. There is little opportunity for employment, denying mothers the means to buy food for their children.
The World Food Programme delivers a little food aid, but thousands go without. With Somalia being such a difficult environment in which to operate, there are few humanitarian organisations. This is exacerbated by the lack of a properly functioning government, and the zone that the government controls in the city is small.
Organisations such as Concern Worldwide do provide aid—food vouchers, sanitation, education and health facilities—for those most at need in the capital, but their resources are limited, and the challenge they face is great. In the meantime, a further generation of Somalis are growing up in a country without peace, ravaged by war for twenty years.
Six months ago, when I was in Somaliland, I thought I would never be able visit South Central Somalia, definitely not Mogadishu, any time soon. Particularly not outside of the confines of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
So when the country director for an NGO I was working for asked me if I was prepared to go to Mogadishu, to explore the drought-displaced there, I immediately answered “yes”. He knew the situation there better than I, and I trusted his judgement.
Several days later, I was boarding a commercial flight out of Nairobi, bound for Mogadishu. And an hour after landing, I found myself separated by only a pane of glass from the freelance militia who would kidnap “a westerner”, hoping to get a couple of million dollars in ransom, at the first opportunity.
The immigration form at Mogadishu airport asks not only your passport number, but the serial number and calibre of any weapons you are carrying.