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UAE funds helped starving Somalis

The National
Monday, July 02, 2012

Last year, as Somalia faced its worst drought in more than 60 years, the UAE was quick to step in with humanitarian aid.

The nation's rulers and residents raised more than Dh162 million in cash through telethons in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, and sent an aid ship carrying more than 400 tonnes of food, clothes and medicines.

A mobile UAE clinic was deployed under government directives. The clinic helped treat nearly 1,000 malnourished patients who were suffering from severe anaemia, urinary tract infections and bladder and respiratory diseases.

Officials from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment worked with the Red Crescent Authority and local aid organisations to distribute 900 tonnes of food and dig more than 60 wells.

One of the agencies that sent a considerable amount of aid was the Al Maktoum Foundation, which helped distribute rations of rice, sugar, flower and oil to more than 12,000 families - averaging at seven members each - in the famine-stricken cities of Borao, Borama and Hargeisa across three months.

This was the third annual initiative by the foundation to help Somalia, and organisers hope to provide more aid this year.

"The needs of the poor are far too much," said Hamdan Mohamed, cultural adviser with the foundation. "No matter what we do we are only helping a small part of the population."

The foundation gave families 25kg of rice and flour, 10.5 litres of oil and 12.5kg of sugar, enough to last a month.

The UN estimated that nearly 750,000 people were facing imminent starvation last August. That figure had dropped to 250,000 by November, after humanitarian aid poured in from beyond Somalia's borders.

"People are suffering from a lack of water, education and medication - a lack of everything," Mr Mohamed said. "For more than 12 years, we have asked for the support of local and regional organisations to work together and help meet the needs of the Somali people."

Famine-stricken residents are grateful for the help.

"The people of Somalia are always very grateful, and we have good arrangements with the local governments and leaders of society there," Mr Mohamed said. "We are prepared to give them more once we raise the money."

The foundation has two permanent bases in Somalia. One is in Hargeisa, the capital of the autonomous region of Somaliland, and the other in Bosaso.

In 2002, the foundation established two schools in the two cities, catering to nearly 1,300 students. More than 500 graduates of these schools have gone to universities in Egypt, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

The 2012 UN High Commissioner for Refugees profile on Somalia said that the effects of last year's famine will be felt throughout this year, especially in areas with diminished resources.

Those working on the ground say the significant problems facing Somalia are far from over. In addition to medical supplies and food, residents are in serious need of wells, universities and adequate hospitals, charity workers said. Securing the safety of residents amid political turmoil is also a great need, Mr Mohamed said.

Al Tayeb Abdullah, the Sudanese man who is head of the foundation's office in Bosaso, has been stationed in Somalia for about nine years with his wife and seven children. As a charity worker in cities that have been hit hardest by the famine, Mr Abdullah said his team was exposed to harsh climates, diseases and infections. But that did not stop them from pressing forward.

"We need huge investments to develop the education and health systems of these people. We need universities, and wells - not only for the people, but also for the wildlife. We need hospitals equipped with better medical equipment," he said. "The support we have provided certainly helped save many lives, but it mustn't end here. The tragic state of the Somali people cannot be resolved in only a matter of a few months."


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