COVID-19 a disaster in waiting for IDPs in Somalia
The total number of Covid-19 infections across the world stands at 7.1 million as of June 9th, 2020 at 01:57 GMT according to the Worldometer website, with Somalia contributing 2,368 of the cases.
Health experts warn that the pandemic poses a substantial threat considering the large population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Somalia with 2.6 million in displacement camps across the country, half of them in Mogadishu.
The rest are scattered in IDP sites in Hargeisa, Doolow, Baidoa, Kismayo, Banadir-Deynile, and Banadir-Khada.
However, with only 84 deaths so far, the escalating number of infections can be controlled if at all those in the camps will adhere to the laid down guidelines by World Health Organization that includes but not limited to; sanitizing, washing hands regularly, maintaining social distancing and above all always wearing a facemask in public.
Somalia has the second-highest number of positive cases in East and Horn of Africa. Although the majority of the cases are in the Banadir region, the number reported in other parts of the country is increasing. Cases continue to be under-reported, and according to WHO, the actual rates are likely to be higher.
IDPs among the most vulnerable
The conditions in IDP camps in Somalia lack the much-needed prerequisites in preventing Covid-19 infections which can spread like bushfire considering the circumstances in the camps. Apart from the old and sickly, the IDPs are now clustered among the vulnerable groups in the Coronavirus menace.
SMDC has established that the camps especially in Mogadishu lack health care facilities, sanitation, and washing facilities which is indeed a breeding ground for the spread of the deadly virus that has claimed 408,615 lives across the globe – by the time of going to press.
The raging floods witnessed in late May this year in parts of Somalia have made the Covid-19 situation in some of the IDP camps more unbearable. Several families were displaced on the outskirts of Beletweyn town in southern Somalia’s Hiran region. Over 250 families were affected at the Halane camp forcing the IDPs to seek temporary shelter elsewhere.
Heavy flooding, conflict, a crippled economy, impending desert locust swarms, and the exponential spread of COVID-19 are threatening the safety and welfare of Somalia’s 2.6 million internally displaced people.
”At the start of this year, more than 220,000 Somalis have become internally displaced, including 137,000 due to conflict, natural and climate-related disasters including drought and resulting lack of livelihoods and floods are additional complex and interlinked drivers of displacement,” UNHCR reported in May 2020.
According to the latest research on Covid-19 response assessment in risk communication and community engagement in IDP sites in Somalia, conducted by Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM) partners and IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), most of the IDPs lack the much needed basic knowledge on Covid-19.
As per their findings, the vast majority of IDPs respondents have heard of COVID-19 with 98% acknowledging the importance of preventing the virus’ transmission within targeted communities.
However, 35% of respondents in Kahda and 29% of respondents in Deynile expressed not knowing anything about the disease.
Also, COVID-19 misinformation appears highest in Kismayo and Hargeisa as the majority of participants believe that COVID-19 is transmitted through mosquito bites or blood transfusion.
48% of those interviewed depend on Radio as a source of information on Covid-19, 46% on humanitarian aid workers (46%) while the rest depend on Facebook, SMS, and TV for obtaining COVID-19 information.
Various efforts have contributed to containing the spread of the Covid-19 in Somalia resulting in 470 recovery cases so far. Health experts warn that the situation could have been worse.
Various measures have been put in place by several NGOs including the different arms of the United Nations in Somalia that have committed to work with the authorities to ensure the needs of the internally displaced persons are addressed.
From such interventions, the IDPs have received food and cash donations with some benefiting from livelihood opportunities that have strengthened their social protection networks.
According to an official statement from UNHCR, over 8,600 persons have already received unconditional cash grants to restore their livelihood. Among them are hundreds of returnees and displaced persons who have lost their employment due to the pandemic.
Moratorium on evictions
It is no doubt that the evictions of vulnerable individuals especially IDPs, refugees, and returnees can represent an even greater threat.
According to statistics by UNHCR, over 64,000 persons have been forced to leave their homes as a result of evictions this year alone and hence the organization has been working with the Federal Government for a nationwide moratorium on evictions during the period of response to COVID-19.
IOM has been lauded for providing ventilators to treat hundreds of COVID-19 patients in Mogadishu and the larger Somalia. The machines were handed over to the Federal Government of Somalia earlier this month.
However, the nine ventilators are a drop in the ocean considering the increasing number of infections in Somalia plus the slow rate of testing for the Covid-19.
Already an Intensive Care Unit has been set up at the De Martino Hospital, which is Somalia’s main public hospital designated by the country’s Ministry of Health to cater to Coronavirus cases.
“We appreciate the crucial support provided by The International Organization for Migration, IOM, Somali Humanitarian Fund, SHF and all other partners working with the Federal Government of Somalia to contain the spread COVID-19 and to provide life-saving treatment to our people,” said Dr. Fawziya Abikar Nur, Minister for Health and Human Services. During the handover ceremony held at the hospital.
For a country with an extremely fragile health care system, much needs to be done to arrest the situation considering that the present infrastructure is not sufficient to sustain a major outbreak.
The setting up of isolation facilities is commendable as it has helped mitigate the exposure of the virus since the first case was reported in Somalia on March 16 this year.
The Ministry of Health in Somalia in conjunction with IOM have launched a campaign dabbed #SomaliaReponds that aims to raise USD 100,000 to buy medical equipment and supplies for De Martino Hospital and other medical facilities across the country
IOM has also pledged to continue with such campaigns aimed at elevating the health care system in Somalia. “We will continue supporting the health authorities in Somalia to ensure that no one is left behind in the COVID-19 response,” said Richard Danziger, Chief of Mission for IOM Somalia.
So far, over 242,000 persons have been informed about the COVID-19 pandemic, including about prevention and recommended actions if an individual is symptomatic.
260 IDP leaders have already received training to increase their capacity to prevent and respond to COVID-19 concerns in their IDP sites. They are now raising awareness in their IDP sites about COVID-19.
Since the pandemic, UNHCR has continued to run 10 phone lines that persons in need can use to request assistance or get more information about COVID-19.
The establishment has been lauded since it reduces face-to-face contact and viral transmission.
Somali National Army
The Somali National Army has come in handy in the distribution of face masks as well as sensitization of the masses on the effects of Covid-19.
The soldiers have helped demystify a belief among the Somalis that they cannot be infected with the virus and as a result, highly boosted to the national effort to make sure the public understands that the virus is real and is vigilant against it.
This SNA campaign is being conducted with the support of the Somali Federal Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
From the above, it is evident that a lot needs to be put in place to help fight the increasing number of infections of Covid-19, especially in the IDP camps.
The situation can only get worse considering the acute challenges that the groups faced prior to the onslaught of Covid-19 that included perennial displacement due to conflict and environmental factors.
The international community needs to come forward with further funding for humanitarian agencies and the government of Somalia considering that going by their numbers, the IDPs cannot practice physical and social distancing, lack of enough clean water for drinking, let alone hand-washing, etc.
There is a need for diversifying the methods employed at the circulation of Covid-19 messaging in IDP camps with Radio remaining the best and most efficient if not instant mode of communication. This includes Radio Gargaar that communicates in the local dialect and takes in questions from the listeners and in the process help enlighten the masses on Covid-19 effects.