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Human Disaster in Somalia..

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William Maclean of Reuters writes..:-


MOGADISHU, Somalia — Water vendor Abdullah Hussein unhitches his donkey cart and sets off up a baking-hot Mogadishu street.

If you could forget this was Somalia and somehow blank out the garbage, the rubble, the rats, and the drugged-up, gun-toting militiamen, the scene at a water bore-hole might make a pretty postcard for tourists in search of new and unusual destinations.


But war has kept tourists away for more than a decade now, and war, too, is the underlying reason why vendors like Hussein and his four-legged workmate Stick are a decidedly mixed blessing in a city plagued by water and sanitation problems.


Cholera germs often lurk in the 200-liter metal drums of water which the donkeys pull around the devastated port city, laying low hundreds and maybe thousands of inhabitants every year.


Dangerous water is just one of the many perils that have created the human health disaster that is southern Somalia, a region hammered by years of militia anarchy, almost bereft of formal medical care, and hit by sickness and malnutrition.


The health statistics of the Horn of Africa country make sobering reading. Life expectancy is 47 years. Forty-five women die every day from childbirth and pregnancy complications. There is one fully qualified Somali doctor for every 250,000 people, according to U.N. statistics. And less than one-third of Somalis have access to clean water.


Piped water is certainly beyond the reach of most in Mogadishu, where the main water plant is out of use thanks to mechanical problems and turf fights among rival factions.




Aid groups like Action Contre La Faim (ACF) put chlorine in the city's wells, but once the water is pumped up into the metal drums on the donkey carts, the metal oxidizes the chlorine, neutralizing its power to kill any cholera present in the water.


"I know — and I am sorry — but I cannot do anything," shrugged Hussein, who earns the equivalent of $1 a day. "I cannot afford a plastic drum."


"It's a strong assumption that the carts are one of the main mediums for cholera infection," said ACF's Jon Cunliffe.


Security is so bad that international aid workers cannot organize safe and reliable distribution of plastic drums for fear they will be stolen and resold at a profit by warlords. Plastic drums on the open market, at more than three times the $7 cost of a metal drum, are too expensive for water sellers.


In a ward in an ACF cholera treatment center, flies buzz around children dehydrated by diarrhea as they lie exhausted, hooked up to intravenous fluids and fanned by their mothers. "There is no clean water where I live, and we cannot afford to buy clean water," said Nadra Habat, cradling her daughter Fatouma, a 2-year-old whimpering and wide-eyed with pain.


Her analysis of Fatouma's plight goes well beyond medicine. "The militia gangs have caused most of our problems in this war," she said. "Everyone wants to be president, to get power for himself. That is why we do not have peace."


As she speaks, a barely conscious young boy nearby discharges a stream of diarrhea across his bed. His brother waves a fan over his head. A few beds away, Zata Issa examines her prostrate 1-year-old daughter Zaadiya. "We have no clear water," she said. Asked why, she replied, "We have no security."




Before war broke out in 1991, cholera outbreaks were recorded only in 1970 and 1985. Since 1994, cholera has become endemic, with annual outbreaks in the dry season. From 1994 to 1998, 70,250 cases of cholera were recorded, and between 1994 and 1996 there were 1,867 recorded deaths, the U.N. Development Programme says. No one knows the real toll.


While more Somalis have access to clean water than five years ago, the percentage of the population with access to safe water has declined since before the war to less than 30 percent, with better access in the more stable north than in the south. Only 35 percent of the country's bore-holes are believed to work due to lack of maintenance, poor construction, and conflict-related destruction.


Across town at an ACF feeding center, listless children with malnutrition stare blankly at visitors. Most are from the countryside, uprooted by fighting, scarcity of food, or the need for medical attention.


Skin hangs loosely from 1-year-old Idil Adam's stick-thin arms and legs. Her hair is reddish and her belly slightly swollen, the pitiful result of tuberculosis and malnutrition. "There is no doctor, no pharmacy where I live," said her mother Shukir Adam, explaining why she chose to bring Idil to Mogadishu from her home village near southern town of Baidoa.


ACF staff says Idil will probably survive this bout of TB, one of the main causes of infant mortality along with acute respiratory disease, diarrhea, cholera, malaria, and measles.


So Adam, for one, is thankful to be in Mogadishu. "Life here is better," she said. "At home, I cannot get a doctor. And my husband, he just vanished one day to Ethiopia."

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