MSF projects keep running in the Somalia turmoil

Interview:

Kenneth Lavelle - OCG’s former Head of Mission
Luis Neira - Medical Coordinator

Interview Kenneth Lavelle: The humanitarian situation in Somalia today remains catastrophic, particularly in the area outside Mogadishu. Today there is an excess of 250 thousand displaced people living in absolutely precarious conditions, with limited access to water, irregular food distributions, limited access to health care in an extremely insecure environment where there is conflict more or less on a daily basis.

The first few weeks of 2009 have seen the start of withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. The context, we expect to change considerably again during 2009, which will create more problems for the Somalia population and for MSF to address their needs. 2008 we witnessed huge increase in the number of nutrition cases, especially in the area outside of Mogadishu, Hawa Abdi, Afgooye, we went for several hundred patients to over 4,000 by the end of 2008. We don’t see any see any improvement in that situation in 2009. Furthermore for the other location in Dinsor and Belet Weyne we also see peeks of nutritional cases but not as severe as the situation we witnessed in the Afgooye, Hawa Abdi area.

It’s approaching one year now, that we have not been able to send international staff on a permanent basis to the field project. During that time, it’s our national staff, who have been running the projects in the field, very closely supported by the coordination team in Nairobi (Kenya) and by the headquarters in Geneva as well. It has been a process of learning this new way of working for MSF in Somalia. During 2008, we were able to visit the projects with international staff but for very very short duration and it was very impressive to see the international staff were continuing to run the activities at a very good level.

Interview Luis Neira: The general impression after all this months without visiting the field :Hospital is trying well, it’s smoothly. The main challenges is in the management in general, management of pharmacy, which has been a little bit more difficult to keep the track follow for consumptions, for the drugs, for the storage .

In medical terms I think the project is still manageable and the programs they are different programmes that we do here: TB maternity, things are going well. There was something we were offering before to the population the opportunity to have emergency surgery. Activities that we have to stop because it’s really difficult to transfer patients to Mogadishu. Because of distance, because of security on the road and also the quality of the transportation. We’ve been told by the staff that even patients sometimes they say “OK, why we will go if we are going to die probably in the road?”. They prefer to stay here and at least have a chance to get some attention. And that’s putting a little bit of pressure on the staff.

Interview Kenneth Lavelle: We still will remember as well that the national staff are living in Somalia, in very very difficult context. It’s amazing what they are doing for MSF Switzerland and for the Somali people.

For 2009, we are not planning to make any major changes to the activities that are currently running in Somalia. It’s very much a period of consolidating this new way of management, of reinforcing the national staff , supporting them as much as possible. What we would like if the context and security allows that we can get the international staff back into the field to support the national staff who had been doing an amazing job for MSF over the last twelve months.