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Humanitarian Watch

Somaliland’s women show kindness and leadership in the face of a humanitarian crisis

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For three years now, Somaliland, like much of East Africa, has experienced extreme drought. Drought that has become more and more severe, until earlier this year, with thousands on the brink of starvation, the government of Somaliland declared a national emergency.
The crisis should serve as a warning to the rest of the world to prepare – and prepare well – for extreme weather events, which are occurring with greater frequency and ferocity than ever before.

As the drought ravages the communities of Somaliland and its neighbours, hurricane Irma is making its destructive path through the Caribbean islands towards Florida. Countries in South Asia have been battling floods affecting more than 24 million people. Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc on the United States’ Gulf of Mexico. Sierra Leone has scrambled to respond to the deadly impacts of a landslide that took nearly 500 lives.

Needless to say, the impacts of these events are wide reaching. They extend beyond the obvious food, water and shelter shortages to the inevitable knock-on effects, such as mass migration within and across country borders, and the aggravation of pre-existing inequalities.

I’ve recently spent two weeks in the small, self-declared independent state in the northwest of Somalia, meeting women leading the humanitarian response to the disaster in their villages. Just hours outside Hargeisa, Somaliland’s tiny capital, I met women in drought-ravaged communities who have taken up leadership roles for the first time in their lives. These women are desperate to protect the lives of those most at risk in the ongoing crisis.

The impact of the drought on Somaliland’s communities has been extreme. The first two years were increasingly difficult, the women told me, but this last year has been the worst. After years of coping with dwindling water supplies – supplies required for business, for food preparation, for sanitation – it eventually evaporated almost entirely. Money ran out, animals died. With little to eat, whole communities became malnourished.
In Somaliland, those who were marginalised before the drought have experienced its greatest effects. In Saylabari, women have formed a collective to ensure that those most in need are the first to receive assistance when aid is distributed in their village.

And who are most affected? Women, they tell me. Women, who have long borne the brunt of a patriarchal system, and its brutish brother, poverty.

Singularly responsible for the care of their children, the stress that mothers have experienced in the drought has been severe. High rates of illiteracy among women who have been denied education means less access to information about what relief is on its way and who will have access to it.

Levels of domestic violence have increased significantly. Women whose husbands have left in search of alternative income are now responsible for providing for their families, as well as caring for them. Forced to forage for water in far off places, women are often raped on their journeys.

For those who migrate, the stories are worse. Over the past six months, people have left their homes in great numbers to search for water and for places their animals can graze on healthy vegetation. Leaving is a gamble –people leave in the hope that there is more sustenance further afield, but without any guarantee of finding it.

Somaliland’s experience of disaster is typical of any emergency insofar as it disproportionately affects women and those marginalised before the crisis. This is a well-recognised truth that should teach us an important lesson. The only way to prepare adequately for disasters of this scale is to address the deeply entrenched gender inequalities in access to resources and decision making.

One hundred kilometres from Saylabari and its women’s collective, a burgeoning women’s coalition have waged their own humanitarian response to the crisis in the village of Gorgeysa.

Their own community is unaffected by the drought, but the women’s coalition introduced a policy that every family in the community must take in two families. Chairwoman Ruun Essa Habane said, “We were receiving so many migrants – so many people who were searching for safety and for food and water. We had to work out how we could care for them.”

The collective pooled its resources, resources that the women had been saving over the three years that they have been working together. They used them to provide for those in their care. They donated clothes.

When I expressed my stunned (Australian) admiration, Essa Habane seemed surprised. “What else could we do?” she said. “We have the money.”

“The community cannot make decisions without us,” said Essa Habane. “We decided we wanted to support those affected by the drought and that was it.”

There is much that Australia could learn from the women of Somaliland and their response to the country’s protracted disaster. While the women in communities in Somaliland give up the little they have to support those who lack their basic needs, Australia struggles to respond humanely to the asylum seeker crisis that we have created.

Rather than responding with kindness to our fellow human beings, our politicians wallow in arguments about space and resources, postulating threats of terrorism and disseminating notions of greedy people jumping queues to grab “our” resources.

It’s worth considering how we might respond if our leadership wouldn’t primarily consist of white advantaged men, who struggle to see beyond the privilege that has always defined their lives, to empathise with those on the margins.

How long can Australia get away with this cruel and selfish response to those in need? Climate change is taking its toll – and it’s a toll that will eventually catch us up.

Extreme weather events are already leading to forced migration, in Somaliland and well beyond it, and in the years to come, millions of people will be on the move, in desperate search of food and water.

If we are to respond effectively to these impending crises – if we are, like the women of Gorgeysa and Saylabari, to ensure that nobody goes without, especially those most vulnerable – we must take action now to ensure that women are equally represented in leadership positions, and that they have the support to maintain them.

Female leaders create space for other women to take up leadership roles and to participate fully in decision making. They consistently make decisions that benefit whole communities, and ensure that everybody is considered and cared for.

At the end of every conversation I had with different women in Somaliland, they would ask me the same question: “What are things like for women in your country? What advice do you have for us as we strive for greater things – for presidency?”

All I could tell them was that in Australia, we’ve taken great steps forward but that the road ahead is long. I said that we could learn from them. That by supporting women’s leadership, perhaps we too, some day, might say, “What else could we do? We have the money.”

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Humanitarian Watch

UN: More than half of Somalis need emergency aid

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The United Nations says more than half of Somalia’s population is in need of emergency aid due to a major drought and worsening conflict.

Millions have been forced from their homes and hundreds of thousands of children have been left malnourished.

The UN says the situation will worsen unless it receives $1.6bn in extra funds.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith reports.

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Briefing Room

Somalia to Probe Evictions of Thousands of Displaced Families

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NAIROBI — The Somali government responded to widespread criticism by aid agencies on Wednesday, promising to investigate reports that thousands of families fleeing drought and conflict were forcefully evicted from more than 20 informal camps.

The United Nations and groups such as the Somalia NGO Consortium say more than 4,000 families, or about 20,000 people, had their homes bulldozed last month inside settlements on the outskirts of the capital of Mogadishu.

The demolitions on private land were unannounced, they said, and pleas by the community — largely women and children — for time to collect their belongings and go safely were not granted.

Some aid workers who witnessed the evictions said uniformed government soldiers were involved in the demolitions.

“Regarding the forced evictions, we are really deeply concerned. We are investigating the number of evictions,” Gamal Hassan, Somalia’s minister for planning, investment and economic development, told participants at a U.N. event.

“We have to make sure we investigate and have to make sure we know exactly what happened. And then we will issue a report and you can take a look at it and see what happened and how it happened,” he said by video conference from Mogadishu.

The impoverished east African nation of more than 12 million people has been witnessing an unprecedented drought, with poor rains for four consecutive seasons.

It has also been mired in conflict since 1991 and its Western-backed government is struggling to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al Shabab.

The U.N. says drought and violence have forced more than 2 million people to seek refuge elsewhere in the country, often in informal settlements located around small towns and cities.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Wednesday condemned the demolitions, and said the fate of those evicted did not fit with the progress Somalia has made.

“Not only did these people lose their homes, but the basic infrastructure that was provided by humanitarian partners and donors, such as latrines, schools, community centers — has been destroyed,” said Peter De Clercq, head of OCHA in Somalia, at the same event.

“I reiterate my condemnation of this very serious protection violation and call on the national and regional authorities to take necessary steps to protect and assist these people who have suffered so much.”

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Humanitarian Watch

‘People were screaming’: troops destroy $200,000 aid camps in Somalia

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More than 4,000 people are homeless two weeks after security forces demolished camps sheltering internally displaced Somalis

Two weeks after being forcibly evicted from their shelters, thousands of vulnerable families are still living rough in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Somali security forces went in and destroyed 23 camps for internally displaced people, housing more than 4,000 Somalis, on 29 and 30 December last year according to the UN.

People say they woke up to bulldozers and soldiers demolishing their shelters. “We were not even given time to collect our belongings,” said Farhia Hussein, a mother of nine. “People were screaming and running in all directions. Two of my children went missing in the chaos. They are twin sisters, aged six – thank God I found them two days later.”

Hussein, 46, came to the city nine months ago from the Shebelle region. “I was a farmer but I lost everything to the drought and I cannot go back now because the security situation is terrible there,” she said. “I never thought my own people would treat me this way in Mogadishu, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.”

The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Unocha) said the destruction included health and sanitary facilities, schools, latrines and water points, at a cost of more than $200,000 of donor money.

Witnesses say the police and military personnel involved in the clearances beat up anyone who tried to resist or question them.

Omar Mohamed, 54, and his eight children now share a makeshift shelter with other families in a nearby camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). “It was a nightmare. At least my children are alive. I saw a mother who lost her eight-month-old child because of hunger and heat. They were literally sleeping under the sun in the open air,” he said.

Mohamed Ismail Abdullahi, district commissioner of Kahda, where the demolitions took place, said: “The eviction was done for the safety of the IDPs since the area they settled was a disputed private land and the eviction order was issued by a High Court, although there was not a proper notice and it was not well coordinated.”

Aid workers and journalists were not allowed to film.

“Security forces stopped reporters from taking photos. It was done quite swiftly and there is not much [reporting] of the eviction in the local press,” said aid worker Abdiaziz Hussein.

Land and property disputes by powerful local clans have been increasing in the city, thanks to booming real estate developments. Displaced people, who mostly come from smaller clans, are often caught up in the middle of the dispute.

Famine, conflict and drought displaced one million people throughout Somalia last year alone. Most end up in large towns and cities like Mogadishu where they face being constantly moved on.

In 2015, similar large-scale destruction of such settlements took place in the same Kahda district, with more than 21,000 people forcibly removed from their makeshift shacks.

The district commissioner said only about 600 families had been rehoused so far and they were working hard to shelter the remaining families.

“We managed to secure land, at least for the coming four years, and will hopefully renew the lease or find an alternative solution but our priority now is to help build shelters for those who lost their properties in the eviction and we call upon all parties including the federal government, the UN and other aid agencies to support these people,” he said.

Farhia Hussein has been taken in by another displaced family whose camp was not affected. “Imagine sharing a small tent with another family of ten. We are basically sleeping in the open air. There are many charities here but there is not enough support.”

Abdiaziz Hussein, who works with a local organisation in the camps, said thousands were in difficulty. “They cannot go back to the camps because the police are still there, guarding the emptied settlements to stop people from coming back,” he said.

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