The Horn of Africa: The delegate for Humanitarian Aid on a fact-finding mission about the current crisis

Article, 24.01.2012

Thousands of people are still living in appalling conditions in the Horn of Africa – in squalid accommodation, without clean drinking water and without access to schooling. Manuel Bessler, the delegate of Swiss Humanitarian Aid, visited Somalia and Kenya in January 2012 to see the situation for himself. What he saw there confirmed him in his conviction that the Horn of Africa must remain a focus of Switzerland’s humanitarian aid.

Manuel Bessler speaks with Somali women in a refugee camp in the centre of Mogadishu.

Ambassador Bessler travelled to Kenya and Somalia from7 to 14 January 2012 and met people affected by the crisis, government representatives, partners of Swiss Humanitarian Aid and members of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which has been providing aid in this region since the 1990s.

The purpose of Bessler's mission: to gain an impression of the needs of the afflicted population of the Horn of Africa, to strengthen Swiss humanitarian aid on the ground and to discuss the necessary aid measures with partner organisations.

Precarious security situation

His trip took him first to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, where a civil war has been going on for over two decades. Since the summer of 2011, the town has been controlled by soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and is governed by the Somalia transitional government. AMISOM troops defuse six bombs a day on average in the capital. Mogadishu has recently also become a target for suicide bombers.

In Mogadishu alone and in the neighbouring Afgoye district, over 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in cramped conditions. As there is no electricity and therefore no light, many women are subjected to sexual violence when darkness falls. Distress, poverty, serious security problems and the absence of state structures characterise this region, which is regularly affected by floods and by droughts. There are atotal of 1.5 million IDPs living in Somalia. On top of this, there are 520,000 Somali refugees in Kenya and 184,000 in Ethiopia.

«There is simply nothing»

Together with Mark Bowden, the UNhumanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mr Bessler visited one of the many camps for internally displaced persons, where he witnessed the indescribable distress and the difficult conditions in which millions of Somalis live.

Bessler said: «Security is no longer the only big problem faced by IDPs in Mogadishu. There is simply nothing there: no decent accommodation, no clean drinking water, no food, no schooling, not even basic things such as latrines. The living conditions must be improved.»

Security, protection and support

The talks that Bessler held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi focused on security, protection and support for the war-weary populations and refugees in the camps as well as plans for the future. He also spoke with other donor countries, leading representatives of UN organisations and aid organisations that receive support from Switzerland’s Humanitarian Aid.

In 2011 Switzerland earmarked an additional CHF 20 million for deployments in the Horn of Africa, doubling financial aid to a total of CHF 38.5 million. About half of the contribution was used in Somalia. In 2011, Swiss Solidarity collected donations of CHF 28.9 million, half of which went to aid for Somalia.

«In this chaotic and often confusing situation we're relying on our long-term partners who have been active in the Horn of Africa for years and have achieved good results thanks to their experience and their contacts,» said Bessler.

The focus of Switzerland’s aid

Bessler wishes to continue working with experienced partners. Together with other donor states he also intends to support the people of the Horn of Africa at the political level. In Somalia and in the Horn of Africa the priorities of Swiss Humanitarian Aid are as follows:

  • Food security and the re-establishment of livelihoods, i.e. rebuilding of water points, agriculture as well as non-formal education for the nomadic population.
  • Emergency aid and humanitarian coordination, e.g. medical emergency aid for conflict victims and victims of drought and support for humanitarian coordination mechanisms.
  • Protection of refugees, of internally displaced persons and migrants, e.g. supplying refugees with vital goods and advocacy of the rights of these people.

«It is important that humanitarian aid should not just be a firefighting exercise but provides the afflicted populations with long-term prospects and supports the corresponding measures, with educational programs in the refugee camps, the transfer of refugees to better locations and peacebuilding projects,» said Bessler.

Additional information