MY MEMORABLE VISIT TO HAFUN, PUNTLAND, AFTER 15 YEARS

Monday 19 July 2021

MY MEMORABLE VISIT TO HAFUN, PUNTLAND, AFTER 15 YEARS

Binyam Gebru, Deputy Director of Development and Quality for Save the Children in Somalia

16 years ago, Save the Children was one of the first agencies to arrive in the coastal village of Hafun in Puntland state to respond to the 2004 boxing day tsunami which devastated Southeast Asia and to a limited East Africa including Somalia. This was the 1st time Save the Children entered the semi-autonomous state of Puntland from other parts of Somalia where it has been operational for over 6 decades.

During this period, I joined Save the Children for the 1st time to support the tsunami effort. Therefore, Puntland, and particularly Hafun, have a special place in my heart. Visiting Hafun on June 22nd, 2021, 15 years after joining the Somalia Country Office, brought back a lot of memories.  

Unlike in Southeast Asia, the tsunami caused more damage to livelihood than lives. Indeed, in some ways, the tsunami was a blessing in disguise as it exposed the chronic suffering of the pastoral and coastal communities of Puntland to the world. This included long drought and protracted conflict and displacement with no health, education services, and other social support. The generous contribution of donors to the tsunami response was big enough not only to rehabilitate the coastal communities but also to support the pastoral inland communities affected by the long-term humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the DEC /UK funding we were able to restore the livelihood of the tsunami-affected communities but also construct schools and health clinics including Hafun Health Center. Due to the buildings of numerous schools and clinics critics used to say that the clinics and school buildings would be ‘white elephants’ once the tsunami money dried. 

The critics were proven wrong. 16 years down the line all the schools and health facilities are up and running including Hafun Health center which we now have upgraded to CEMONC (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Center) giving the center the ability to conduct cesarean sections with blood transfusions. Now delivering mothers and sick babies will never have to be transported through the sand dunes and rough roads of Hafun to the closest referral hospital after an 8 to 12-hour long drive.

The inauguration of the CEMONC service was attended by the Hafun community, authorities, and Save the Children Staff.  During the visit, we were also able to lay the foundations for the 1st seawater desalination project in Somalia to alleviate the severe shortage of water for human consumption in Hafun.

After staying 2 nights in Hafun we drove for 6 hours and reached Iskushuban village where we spent one night. In Iskushuban village we supported clinics funded by SIDA/SDC under the CHASP project. These communities used to complain during the tsunami period that we carried the dollars to the coastal communities while leaving them in the dust clouds that numerous hired land cruisers left behind as they crossed their villages daily. We promised them that once the tsunami response was over, we would also extend our support to them, which we did by establishing clinics that we have been supporting for the past 12 years now.  During our last visit, we also handed over an ambulance to the health authorities.

Thanks to the very collaborative communities of the region and generous donors we have been able to support 46 health facilities under the CHANGE project funded by FCDO/DFID in the Karkaar region including Hafun Health Center, and 58 health facilities in Bari Region funded by SIDA/SDC.  

In 16 years of our presence in Puntland state, we have scaled up our work yearly and currently support 145 facilities.  Moreover,  we support 295 facilities and 100 mobile clinics in Somalia.  Through these many endeavors,  we proved to the Somali communities that we are a reliable partner worthy of earning Save the Children its unwavering community acceptance.