Africa, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Health

ENVIRONMENT: Tsunami Exacerbates Somalia’s Woes

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Dec 30 2004 (IPS) - Somalia’s interim Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi will fly home in the next few days to assess the damage caused by the tidal wave which has left more than 100 people dead in the Horn of African country.

Ghedi, who joined the newly installed Somali government Nov. 3, is temporary based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. His boss, President Ahmed Yusuf, also operates from Nairobi due to the insecurity in, lawless, Somalia.

Somalia slipped into chaos following the ouster of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Since then, the country has been split into fiefdoms by warlords, with no central authority.

Sunday’s tidal wave is likely to speed up the transfer of the government to the Somali capital Mogadishu. Initially, the administration had planned to relocate to Mogadishu next year after sorting out security problems and pacifying the capital.

The quake, which hit Somalia’s coastlines Dec. 26, tore the seabed off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, striking Sri Lanka, southern India, the Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, killing hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists.

Described as the biggest tidal wave in 40 years, the quake, which recorded 9.0 on the Richter scale, radiated out to East Africa, hitting Kenya, and killing one person in the coastal town of Malindi. The incident prompted the local authorities to order all beaches along the Kenyan coastline vacated.

Kenya’s environmental minister Kalonzo Musyoka said this week that the country’s navy had been put on high alert.

Neighbouring Tanzania, too, has been affected. It lost 10 people to the tsunami.

In Somalia, around 120 people were killed, 35 missing and 50,000 displaced by the wave, which originated 4,500 km away in Asia, Prime Minister Ghedi told journalists in Nairobi this week.

‘’The prime minister will lead a fact-finding mission accompanied by Somali officials and international agencies to the site,’’ Yusuf Baribari, head of the presidential press service, told IPS in an interview in Nairobi Dec. 29.

‘’The loss of human lives from the tidal wave is now more than 100. We are still getting more information about the devastation. But the damage to property is immense. All fishing nets, boats, refrigerators at the shore have been swept away by the waves. Most of the coastal villages and towns are now submerged with water,’’ Baribari said.

The most affected is Puntland’s coastline on the Indian Ocean, according to Baribari. He said the devastation would require the support of neighbouring countries as well as the international community.

‘’We need assistance of any kind including relief support. We are appealing to our neighbours as well as the international community to come to our rescue,’’ he said.

So far, some international humanitarian agencies, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have responded to Somalia’s plight, despite the problems associated with accessing areas badly hit by the wave. ‘’There has been difficulty crossing into Hafun, an island in the north of Somalia, and this has delayed distribution of food,’’ Laura Melo, WFP’s spokesperson, told IPS Dec. 29.

According to Melo, WFP food stocks in Puntland (northeast of Somalia), previously meant for drought and flood victims there could be shared with tidal wave survivals. ‘’Assistance to drought victims will continue, but some stock can be used to assist tidal wave victims,’’ WFP said in a statement Dec. 29.

The WFP is transporting 31 metric tonnes of food to the needy, including 2,000 people in Hafun this week, according to the UN agency.

The tidal wave presents a double misfortune for Puntland, which has been facing severe drought for the last four years and subsequent floods and cold weather that has in the last few months killed many animals.

Aid agencies have warned of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

UNICEF is particularly concerned about the plight of children affected by tsunami. ‘’Hundreds of thousands of children who survived the massive waves that destroyed their communities now risk getting seriously ill from something as simple as taking a drink of water,’’ UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said from New York, the UN headquarters, on Dec. 29.

Her organisation is supplying safe water and teaching populations in the hardest hit areas about the need for clean water and sanitation.

The tidal wave poses a great challenge to president Yusuf, who was elected Oct. 10 to lead Somalia. He faces a daunting task of reconstructing and rebuilding a country that has not had a central administration for 13 years.

His problems are further compounded by the fact that some territories such as Puntland in the northeast and Somaliland in the northwest have either declared autonomy or independence from the Horn of African country.

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