Between 2010 and 2012, Somalia experienced what was considered one of the worst famines in the past 25 years. However, the United Nations only declared famine in July 2011, due to the unrest between Somalia and western groups who were offering aid. Somalia’s Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions were the first to be affected and thereafter spread to Middle Shabelle, Afgoye and Mogadishu.
Fatalities reached an estimated 260 000 during the 2010-2012 period; half of the deceased were children under the age of 5, meaning that 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under 5, in Southern and Central Somalia, had succumbed to the famine. While conditions have since improved, Somalia still remains one of the highest rates of child malnutrition and infant mortality in the world.
Gift of the Givers Response:
Responding to the human misery resulting from the catastrophic famine in Somalia and the appalling impact it had on thousands of people - mainly children - we set about a R40 million emergency relief mission, facilitating one of the greatest humanitarian efforts ever co-ordinated in South Africa.
Our efforts saw 11 flights, carrying a total of 175 tons of emergency aid to Mogadishu, in Somalia. This was immediately augmented by four ships, carrying 2 080 tons of additional supplies setting sail for Somalia's capital, located in the coastal Banadir region.
We sent 94 personnel - inclusive of 57 medical specialists - comprising multiple teams to help bring relief to the thousands of malnourished and badly dehydrated victims of the famine. These teams established four feeding centres in the established refugee camps, feeding a total of 30 000 people three so-called 'wet' meals a day. In addition, 300 families, newly-arrived at these camps were provided 'dry rations'.
In addition to the feeding programme, our medical personnel delivered medical care on-site in refugee camps located in several districts. They were also responsible for treating patients admitted to four hospitals. Crucially, Forlanini Hospital, which had been closed for several years, was made available to our organisation. Our dedicated personnel made this facility functional - as set-up our own operating theatre - within three hours. Our medical teams were amazing... working in the camps and at four hospitals, including Banadir, Madina, Saint Martini and the re-instituted Forlanini Hospital, our medical personnel treated 10 700 patients and performed 80 operations, an invaluable contribution to our famine response. Children treated in either the camps or hospital were provided with nutritional supplement packs, worth R1 300 each. We also installed our first borehole in Somalia, which cost US$15 000, bringing potable water to the 30 000 refugees inhabiting the 11 camps for the first time, immensely easing their predicament.
In a country where trained medical personnel is a luxury, oxygen for medical purposes in unavailable and where no orthopaedic surgeon has been in attendance for more than two decades, the medical impact our teams made during the famine was immense.