Somalia: A nation in ruins

Al Jazeera examines the terrible legacy of more than a decade of war and anarchy.

A year after Ethiopian soldiers ousted the Islamic Courts, chaos and bloodshed
reigns on the streets of Mogadishu, the Somali capital [EPA]

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow and Andrew Simmons travelled to different parts of Somalia to witness first-hand what is going on in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Moving through the chaotic capital of Mogadishu, one comes across a grisly scene: several artillery shells had just hit the capital’s Bakaara market.

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Dismembered bodies, blood and severed limbs lie everywhere. And as is often the case, all the victims are civilians.

Such scenes are not uncommon in this theatre of war, but they are rarely captured on camera.

Those lucky to escape the attack run for dear life. But in this city, there is nowhere to hide.

This is not a conventional war and no one is spared the violence. Here good Samaritans struggle to save the injured. They bundle them on to vehicles and hand-carts. They will join many others lying in the city’s few and congested hospitals.

“I was injured by a remote-controlled landmine targeting Ethiopian troops,” says Hussein Issack, a recent victim of the violence.

“A friend I was with died on the spot. I am really saddened by these attacks. Those targeted usually escape and it’s [us civilians] who get hurt.”

Civilians ‘targeted’

Many Islamic Courts’ Union fighters are still licking their wounds from the fighting with Ethiopian forces, but they remain bold enough to venture out into the streets.

They have also become increasingly confident in recent months.

Along with Ethiopian forces, they are also accused of targeting civilians, a charge they strongly deny.

“We are the people and the people are us. We are not any different,” one Islamic Courts’ fighter told Al Jazeera.

“We are victims of our enemies who attacked our land after Somalis enjoyed six months of peace and tranquility under the Islamic Courts.

“They are the enemies of Allah, Muslims and the Somali people.”

‘Nowhere to run’

Later, while travelling in to Mogadishu, less than 10km from the city, we can hear the sound of bombardments and shelling.

It is also the road to the city where the displaced have set up camps.

Hussein is severely disabled, a widower and
has seven children to feed

On either side, hundreds of thousands of people live in terrible conditions. They want to return home but cannot while the violence continues.

Tens of thousands others also remain trapped in the city. Marooned by the fighting, they have no escape route.

Physically disabled Hussein Osman Gessey is one of them. His wife died a few weeks ago, leaving him to care for his seven children, including a three-month-old baby.

“I have nowhere to run to. I have nothing to transport them and no place to take my children,” he said.

“Should I worry about what they eat or where they will get safety? Most of my neighbours have fled. I now rely on what I am brought by kind friends who are aware of my problems.”

Hussein’s misfortunes are shared by many Somalis today. Every tale you hear is more heart-rending than the other.

Hospital overwhelmed

Mogadishu’s desperate situation is echoed in other parts of the country. In Galguduud, a town several hundred kilometres north of the capital, aid workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres Belgium struggle to treat those in need.

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The organisation’s staff have strict procedures: they have security guards wherever they go, whether in the drive to work from the compound in which they live or to the hospital where they work. They are not allowed to venture anywhere else.

The morning meetings have a common theme – where to put more admissions and what to do with those waiting to be assessed.

The hospital’s outpatients department is always absolutely inundated. The health needs in this conflict are unlike so many others, because there is no basic infrastructure and the children are the most in need.

In one ward alone there have been 30 admissions in the past few days and Dr Carolina Batista Santos, the doctor in charge, rarely gets a break.

Small successes

In this hospital, we attract people from faraway places, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. We see a lot of diseases that are preventable from immunisation that is not going on.

Not only that, but many children arrive here too late because their parents often do not realise the importance of taking them to hospital.

Many Somali children are sick with easily
preventable diseases

And in a country with no health service, traditional healing is followed by many parents.

One three-year-old boy has a potentially fatal disease called kala azar. On his skin are welts from where a traditional healer burned him in a futile attempt at a cure.

Left too late, all of his internal organs will fail. Nevertheless, with the hospital’s care they are hopeful he will survive.

It is not war that keeps the hospital full in Galguduud. There are domestic accidents, burns from spilled cooking oil, poor nutrition, neglected illnesses and ailments that come from poor sanitation and no running fresh water.

Dr Santos is doing her best and she makes the most of her successes.

But she knows that any gains are set against so many lives lost in a country with overwhelming needs.

Source : Al Jazeera


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