Drought and famine: The desperate situation in Somalia | RVO.nl

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Drought and famine: The desperate situation in Somalia

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Vincent Leray is a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialist. He has worked in humanitarian contexts in 20 countries for 25 years. Via the DSS Water programme, he is now supporting UNICEF in Somalia. He is helping tackle the effects of the worst drought in 40 years.

Since October 2020, the rainy seasons have not brought any rain, and the situation has become more dangerous. Lack of water results in malnutrition and diseases. And famine is an immediate threat. As a result of the drought, local water prices have more than tripled. Nearly 8 million people in Somalia face acute water shortages. And 7 million Somalis experience extreme levels of food insecurity. Due to a lack of water and food, children are not going to school. Vincent sighs heavily, "More than a million people are currently seeking refuge in one of the many camps," he says.

WASH interventions

To counter the dire effects of drought, UNICEF has increased its WASH interventions. Vincent explains, "The interventions I manage include constructing and rehabilitating water points and latrines. We also provide water via water trucking in the camps. We counsel mothers on how to keep their children healthy. And we distribute hygiene kits and provide health services. We organise hygiene promotion sessions as well. These sessions address essential hygiene lessons about hand washing and water treatment at home. We have created water communities to manage water points. Unfortunately, al-Shabaab's militant group is still active in large parts of the country. They cut off many people from our facilities. And we cannot come to their aid."

Cholera response

Within the WASH programme, Vincent primarily deals with the cholera response. "Earlier, cholera broke out again in Somalia," he continues. Between 1 January to 10 July 2022, 7,796 cases of cholera were reported. More than half the people suffering from cholera are not even 2 years old. The outbreak happened along with other ongoing outbreaks, malnutrition, and a water shortage. "Normally, I do not have much contact with beneficiaries," says Vincent. "I provide infection prevention and control training for the UNICEF staff members. I also present the multisectoral Case Area Targeted Intervention (CATI) approach we developed for Somalis. It includes Health, WASH and Social Behaviour Change. The idea is to raise awareness and organise community outreach response teams. These teams map water sources and community latrines."


Are there ways to reduce the spread of cholera? Vincent nods yes, "We can establish a quarantined area for the patient's household. Inside this area, we can take various measures. Our local partners can distribute household water treatments and soap. They can also provide information about preventing cholera transmission. We recommend checking on the outcomes after 2 weeks at most. Our local partners can monitor the proper use of the supplies distributed. Also, they can measure the understanding and application of crucial sanitation and health practices and the level of satisfaction with the response." We want to identify 1 partner per hotspot. That partner must be able to deploy a team on a patient household level. So far, the Somali participants are very appreciative of and committed to our approach.

Lifelong ambition

Growing up, Vincent heard about the work of Doctors Without Borders. "I decided I wanted to work for an NGO abroad. At first, I wanted to study to become a doctor. Then, I learnt more about the importance of clean water. That is why I studied water management instead. For 25 years, I have worked in humanitarian contexts in 20 countries. I really love my job, even if I do not have much of a social life. It is definitely worth it."

Would you like to use your knowledge to help out in disaster areas?

Dutch Surge Support (DSS Water) provides fast emergency relief for water-related disasters. DSS deploys experts on water and sanitation, water resources management and water provision. The experts provide emergency relief, such as clean water and sanitation. But they also aim for long-term assistance, such as wastewater treatment. Are you an expert in a particular sector? Would you like to help in water-related emergencies? DSS water is always looking for new experts. Learn more about DSS water. Would you like to contribute to Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)? Read more on the DSS MHPSS page. Or sign up as an expert in our expert database.

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