Contaminated water a grave threat to Somalis

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“The humanitarian community urgently needs money to keep clean water accessible in all of the camps for Mogadishu’s displaced.”

Enzo Vecchio
Oxfam's Country Director in Somalia
Published: 21 March 2014

As “World Water Day” is marked 22 March with events around the world, today millions of Somalis remain in danger by simply taking a drink of water. Contaminated water and a lack of sanitation are killers in this country, where waterborne diseases are a constant threat to health. Only 30% of Somalis have access to clean water, leaving the majority vulnerable to several life threatening diseases.

“Clean water should be available to all, but sadly that’s far from the reality in Somalia,” said Daud Rahoy, Officer in Charge for HIJRA, (Humanitarian Initiative Just Relief Aid, local Oxfam partner) in Mogadishu. “Diseases from contaminated water and poor sanitation are all too common. Young children and women are especially vulnerable to the spread of such diseases.”

Increasing health risks

Large portions of the Somali population are at continuous risk from waterborne diseases like Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD), cholera and polio. Since 20 January this year, there have been at least 216 cases of Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) in South Central Somalia, with the number of cases increasing sharply in the past month. Diarrheal diseases contributed to the deaths of thousands of people during the 2011 – 2012 famine in Somalia.

Besides the lack of safe drinking water, poor hygiene and a lack of sanitation are significant contributors to high disease rates. In Somalia less than one in four people have access to improved sanitation. The numbers are worst in rural villages where toilets and latrines are rare, and open defecation stands at 83 percent; the third highest rate in the world.

Water prices rising

The lack of clean water at this time of year, has also led to a sharp price increase for drinking water. In Tooratooroow, a small village north of Afgooye, the price for a barrel of water (200 litres) now costs 100,000 Somali Shillings, (more than US$5) a price far out of reach for most Somali families. That is a more than 100 percent price increase in the past two months.

Oxfam is there

While 860,000 people are still living in crisis conditions, many foreign donors have reduced their humanitarian aid budgets for Somalia. Oxfam and HIJRA have continued to supply clean water and sanitation to 158,000 people living in several of Mogadishu’s camps for the displaced. With donor funding drastically reduced this year, the threat of closing these life sustaining water programs in the camps has risen.

“The humanitarian community urgently needs money to keep clean water accessible in all of the camps for Mogadishu’s displaced,” said Enzo Vecchio, Oxfam Somalia Country Director. “Oxfam calls on international donors not to abandon these people in need, and provide support for clean water programs in Somalia. We must ensure that vulnerable people are not needlessly  exposed to risks when looking for water elsewhere. In the long term Mogadishu needs a sustainable water supply, but in the short term vulnerable communities need water now to survive.”

Comprehensive solutions needed

“A comprehensive approach to reducing waterborne diseases must include increasing access not only to safe drinking water, but also to improved sanitation, while addressing hygiene behavior,” said Daud Rahoy of HIJRA. “Integrated programs which include water, sanitation and public health promotion will reduce these outbreaks of waterborne diseases in Somalia.”

The global theme for World Water Day this year is “Water and Energy”. Worldwide, 768 million people lack access to improved water, and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation.

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