MSF maintains projects amidst sudden change in Somalia as Islamic Courts gain place in Mogadishu

Somalia has the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in the world. Polio, which has nearly been been eradicated worldwide, is still rampant in Somalia. Life expectancy is 47. This is why our priority is to return as soon as possible in order to resume our activities.

Did you expect this sudden change? How has the Somali population reacted to the new situation?

"This was totally unexpected. For 15 years Somalia has been controlled by warlords and nobody could have imagined that the situation could change overnight. It has taken us totally unaware. So, it's still too soon to know for sure but one thing is clear: people were tired of so many years of chaos and anarchy and of being under the warlords' control.

"In Somalia nothing works: water, electricity and schools are unavailable. Access to health, a garbage collection system, courts or police forces are non-existent.There is no work and people have no prospects for the future. The population desperately wants a change. Most people seem to support the Tribunals because they offer an alternative from the one offered by the warlords."

How do you assess the situation after four months of fighting?

"Fortunately, the parties in the conflict have broadly respected the civilian population. There have not been large population displacements, looting, rape or direct attacks on civilians. The most serious incident was the militia's takeover of the Hospital in Kisani which is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Some civilians were caught in the crossfire and injured."

How has this instability affected the MSF projects?

"Only two out of our eight projects have been affected.

"In the district of Yaqshid, in Mogadishu, we were about to launch a measles vaccination campaign, vaccinating 150,000 children. There has not been a vaccination campaign in Mogadishu for 10 years. Due to the fighting we have had to delay the campaign indefinitely. But despite the hostilities, the clinic has been operational most of the time.

"We have also had to evacuate international staff from Jowhar (central Somalia) where we support six clinics and we have had to delay the measles vaccination campaign there.

"At first our national staff managed to keep the project going, but a few days ago we had to suspend activities as tension mounted." [The city was taken over by the Islamic Courts recently. MSF has already resumed activities].

What are the main humanitarian concerns For MSF in Somalia?

"Our main concern is neglect. Somalia fell off the international radar 15 years ago and has been neglected ever since. We hear about the country now because of the Islamists taking power but nobody mentions the suffering endured by the Somali people. Somalia is in ruins and nothing works. Insecurity has prevented a lot of external aid from being delivered (there are very few NGOs working in Somalia now).

"People die of curable diseases simply because there is no access to healthcare. Child mortality is extremely high: one in ten children are stillborn and of those who manage to survive one in four die before their fifth birthday. Epidemics such as measles, malaria and cholera are common and devastating, as are famines and drought.

"Somalia has the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in the world. Polio, which has nearly been been eradicated worldwide, is still rampant in Somalia. Life expectancy is 47. This is why our priority is to return as soon as possible in order to resume our activities.