An estimated 2.7 million Somalis face food insecurity and one million people have been uprooted from their homes because of a severe drought. For children, the drought conditions elevate the risk of separation and exploitation.
Rural families that have lost farms and livestock are known to send their children to the capital Mogadishu and other cities to live with relatives or find jobs. “This is a very desperate situation, but the families are doing it because they have no other option, and they think the children will provide for the family,” says Abdikadir Dakane, the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Somalia. Desperation also leads to child marriage, with parents gambling on a better life for the girl and a dowry to help the rest of the family.
Despite SOS Children’s Villages’ long history of supporting care and education for children, and playing a prominent role in maternal and child health, Mr Dakane sees the need to expand its programmes to help strengthen families who grow more vulnerable during times of natural disaster.
He hopes to expand existing family strengthening work to help boys and girls who are either separated from their families or at risk of leaving home, noting that the SOS Children’s Villages model of working with at-risk families to address their individual needs and challenges “is highly needed”.
Although hopeful that seasonal rains will bring relief this year, the World Food Programme says millions of Somalis face hunger and displacement because of prolonged drought. A recent Somalia nutrition report estimates that 1.2 million children are at risk of malnutrition, 232,000 of whom are in the most severe category.
Mr Dakane intends to better prepare SOS Children’s Villages Somalia for natural disasters in a largely agrarian country prone to extreme drought, flooding and instability. “Every year we have emergencies in Somalia – it is a protracted emergency. We need to have a supply of tents available that can be used for many purposes, such as a child friendly space or as a temporary learning centre. We should pre-position toys so that even in the midst of emergencies, children can still be children, so they are not forgotten.
“We want to be well prepared, to engage more with other organisations that are doing child protection and emergency response and to be more aggressive with fundraising for emergency response,” he says. “We want to do better at preparedness planning and coordination.”
SOS Children’s Villages Somalia is also taking steps to renovate its hospital in Mogadishu, which treats up to 400 children and mothers daily and “is pretty run down” from heavy use and years of instability in the country, Mr Dakane says. The upgrade will take place “step-by-step” to avoid interruptions in medical services.
“We cannot stop for a single day,” Mr Dakane said. “The hospital will move to the nursing college for the time of renovation and services will continue. The entire renovation will take a year.”
SOS Children’s Villages opened its first Village and a kindergarten in Mogadishu in 1985 and has steadily expanded its support for children through care, protection and education. It works to strengthen at-risk families and prevent separation. The hospital in Mogadishu and clinic in Baidoa, in the south-west Bay region, have played a central role in providing maternal and child care.
In the following interview, Mr Dakane talks about the impact that drought and historic struggles have had on children and families in the country.
Abdikadir Dakane is the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Somalia. Photos by Katharina Ebel
How has the drought and food insecurity affected children and families in Somalia?
Children are often separated in this migration process, both accidentally and intentionally. Intentional separation is one of the coping mechanisms of the rural population. They tend to send their children away, some to the cities where they have never been before, to stay with an extended family member. They often end up becoming a house boy or a house girl, others beg on the street to provide for the family back home. Some end up with SOS Children’s Villages. Other children are recruited into armed groups and militias. They tend to join anywhere they can to provide for their families. Families also give away their young girls to marry as young as 12. The families use the dowry money, which is quite traditional in our society, for support. This is a very desperate situation, but the families are doing it because they have no other option and they think the children will provide for the family.
One of the bad traditional norms in Somalia is that all the family and household problems tend to shift to the mother. Most of the time, the father is out of the picture and whenever emergencies happen, he moves to look for a job in the cities, while the children and the mother are left alone. This is another effect of the drought – separation creates psychological and emotional distress on children and women.
How critical is the child nutritional situation in Somalia?
Malnourishment is very serious in Somalia. We provide emergency assistance already. Our medical services for children and mothers include a nutrition package, we operate therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres, and we work with UNICEF and the World Food Programme to address these issues. What we do in our clinics is great, and we have a good reputation due to the health and nutrition activities.
The SOS Children’s Villages hospital in Mogadishu treats hundreds of children and mothers every day. SOS Somalia also operates a clinic in Baidoa. “What we do in our clinics is great, and we have a good reputation due to the health and nutrition activities,” says Abdikadir Dakane, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Somalia.
You mention the SOS Children’s Villages health clinics and their important role in nutritional care. Are there sufficient supplies to meet the needs of those who seek treatment?
Both our health centres – in Mogadishu and Baidoa - definitely run out of stock. They rely heavily on the in-kind donation of supplies from our international partners. Despite these donations, there is a shortage of supplies. Another impact of the drought and the nutritional needs of children is that we tend to get more patients than we expect. The number of people we are trying to cover is greater than the supply of medical supplies. The gap is always there.
Are the educational needs of Somalia’s children, including those who are displaced, being met?
When displacement happens, when any emergency happens - whether it is man-made or caused by a natural disaster - this is beyond the capacity of children to absorb, understand and accept. As a child protection specialist, one of the first things you do at the onset of an emergency is to immediately create things that provide normalcy for children - for example, having a child friendly space where children can play, a mobile school where children can continue to learn, so every child has the opportunity to go to school or somewhere to play. In emergency situations like in Somalia, child protection and education go hand-in-hand.
SOS Children’s Villages Somalia is renovating its hospital in Mogadishu, which treats up to 400 children and mothers daily and “is pretty run down” from heavy use and years of instability in the country, says Abdikadir Dakane, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Somalia. The upgrade will take place “step-by-step” to avoid interruptions in medical services.
Background on our work in Somalia
SOS Children’s Villages opened its first Village and a kindergarten in Mogadishu in 1985 and has steadily expanded its support for children and families in the years since through maternal and child health care and education.
Our health services in Mogadishu, Baidoa and an outreach programme for internally displaced families at Badbado reach around 260,000 mothers and children every year, including 15,000 children treated for malnutrition and another 8,000 provided care to prevent malnutrition.
In an ongoing effort to prevent more prevalence in the community, 82,000 people were provided with educational information in 2017 to encourage them to improve good household health and hygiene practices.
Furthermore, 67,000 mothers were provided information or training on safe and healthful breastfeeding and nutritional practices for children up to 24-months-old. SOS Children’s Villages also worked with partner organisations to help care for 170 women who were raped.
In Somalia, the SOS Children's Villages emergency response for the health and nutrition sectors is financed with support of the European Union humanitarian agency (ECHO).
Read more about SOS Children's Villages in Somalia