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2 June 2020 - News


Omar Mohamed Hussein walking through the flooded and risky streets of Belet Weyne

 On a normal day, it takes about 25 minutes for Omar to reach Ex-Airport health centre at the heart of Belet-Weyne town in Somalia. The road from his house to the centre is pretty much straight forward. He would walk swiftly, planning his tasks for the day. Today, however, is different. It has taken him more than an hour and half, to battle through flooded streets, changing his route several times to make sure he reaches his work place safely.  As three-quarters of Beledweyne town is submerged by flood waters, Omar has no choice but to brave the knee-high waters, most places mixed with sewage, at the same time ensure his laptop bag doesn’t get into the water. Once he gets to the office, he has to spend another 30 minutes to clean up and change so he can deliver services to children and communities he serves. 

“I know it is very risky but I cannot stop working and stay at home. I have to get to the health clinics. The children need us. We have to make sure they get the services they need,” says Omar, Save the Children’s Health Program Coordinator based in Belet Weyne.

Omar joined Save the Children in Somalia in October 2017, at the height of the hunger crisis that devastated more than half of the Somali population. Since then, Omar has worked painstakingly with children and their families in Beletweyne town and throughout the vast countryside of Hiran region of Somalia.  

On normal days,  Omar spends most of his time working from Save the Children’s office, leading the implementation of Save the Children’s health programs in Hiran region. He works closely with health teams including nurses, doctors and field level technical teams to ensure they have adequate support to deliver quality services to children. He engages with partners—both government and communities—to understand their needs and to plan how best to address those needs.

However due to the floods, his schedule had to change. It is impossible for him to walk through the fast-flowing waters to get to office every day. Also, once he is there, he won’t be able to move around the town to support the teams as required. “Now I leave home with my laptop and head straight to one of the health facilities we support. I work from there so that I’m closer to the teams, ” says Omar.

What is very frustrating for Omar now is the access challenges caused by the floods which limit him to move freely and safely between different health facilities. “Just visiting one health facility takes me a lot of time, and it’s very risky.”

Hiraan Region is a perfect example of devastations caused by climate change. The region is  affected by harsh weather conditions,  reoccurring droughts and is prone to flooding,  forcing hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced. Recently, heavy rains in the highlands of Ethiopia and across parts of Somalia led to the overflow of the Shabelle river in Beletweyne, submerging more than three-quarters of the town and surrounding riverine villages. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia, the recent heavy rains and floods have affected at least 989,000 people, including 418,000  who have been displaced across the country. In Beledweyne alone,  ‘an estimated 240,000 people had been effected by the floods’.

As a result, many parts of the country are now worried about disease outbreaks including fears of acute watery diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid fever, measles and other disease that usually threaten the lives of many children. The Corona virus pandemic  brings a particularly dangerous dynamic to the already dire situation in the country. 

However the most recent floods are not new to people in Hiraan region. Each year the region faces at least two major emergencies including the flooding of River Shabelle.  Save the Children and its partners are in the forefront to support communities cope with these disasters.  We support four mobile health teams and at least 100 integrated community case management staffs through the Hirshabelle Ministry of Health. The teams provide antenatal care, postnatal care, outpatient department consultations, immunization services, distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets, distribution of clean delivery kits, referrals and health education distributed through three main health projects funded by DFiD, UNOCHA and HE Sheikh Al Thani.

For the flood affected populations, Save the Children is providing clean water through water trucking and services via mobile health and nutrition teams. We are also using COVID-19 hygiene messages adapted for the situation to help children and their families to keep safe from disease outbreak and COVID-19.

This complex situation makes it exceptionally challenging for Omar and his colleagues. It means they have to constantly change their plans to address the most immediate health challenges of people we serve and this is not easy. “One has to remain strong and extremely dedicated. Sometimes we risk our lives to save the lives of children and their mothers,” says Omar.