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Remember Somalia

For all the devastation that occurred across South-East Asia, particularly in Aceh and Sri Lanka, as a result of the December 26 tsunami, we must remember that it's not just an Asian disaster. Somalia was hit hard. This report from IRIN:

Tsunami survivors need help to overcome the trauma

HAFUN PENINSULA, 28 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - Nurfo Ibrahim Mudey, a 27-year-old widow and mother of four, is still unable to go to the shore where her home once stood in the Somali hamlet of Hafun, destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December. Her husband and her six-month-old baby drowned when the surging waves swamped their house.

"I do not want to see the sea again because it reminds me of my husband and my baby," Mudey told visiting reporters, as she sat pensively next to a makeshift shelter made of plastic sheeting donated by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The people of Hafun, a fishing hub on the northeastern coastline of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, lost most of their homes as well as their fishing boats - and thereby their livelihoods - to the killer waves. Many are now terrified of the sea.

"A quarrel between a man and his wife recently caused people to run out of their shelters believing that the sea was surging again," Said Muhammed, an education officer with UNICEF in Hafun, said.

"Children are seriously traumatised and counselling facilities are not available locally," Maulid Warfa, an assistant programme officer with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN. "They do not want to go anywhere near the beach."

According to Hawa Said Ismail, a volunteer teacher in a makeshift primary school that UNICEF built, children are still in a state of shock.

"They speak of having dreams [about the tsunami] and look confused," she said.

The mayor of Hafun, Abshir Abdi Tangi, said that the focus should now be on the rehabilitation of livelihoods and infrastructure in Hafun.

"We are a destroyed town that needs everything," Tangi said. "We have received assistance, but it is not enough. Hafun was a historic town and was growing - we had facilities - water, shelter, education - but all that is now gone and we have to start from scratch. Our livelihoods depended on fishing and our fishing equipment has been destroyed.

A few days after the tsunami, WFP distributed some 83 mt of rice, maize, pulses and vegetable oils to an estimated 800 families who were in Hafun. The agency plans to distribute more food to 500 families in a week's time.

"The old Hafun is still a ghost town," Leo van der Velden, WFP's deputy country director for Somalia, said. "Even the sand dunes that provided protection [from the sea] were washed away.

"We plan to assist the people for six months and after that we might think of doing food for work and school feeding," he continued. "WFP is also handling logistics for others agencies."

The tsunami disaster could not have come at a worse time for Hafun and the neighbouring communities. The northeastern region of Somalia has been ravaged by four years of drought that depleted livestock, the mainstay of the area's economy.

Many people had turned to fishing as an alternative means of survival and the income was helping.

"The loss of fishing as a source of livelihood means that the vulnerability levels have gone up," Warfa said. "The major issue now is rehabilitation and livelihood reconstruction."

He pointed out that temporary shelters now housing those displaced by the tsunami could be swept away by the strong monsoon winds that lash the region from July.

"Nobody will be able to go to the sea [during the monsoons]," Warfa said. "This is a critical period for the people of Hafun."

According to various relief agencies working in the region, about 150 people are estimated to have died throughout Somalia, while 54,000 were in need of emergency assistance. Northeastern Somalia was the worst affected, particularly a stretch of around 650 km between Hafun [Bari region] and Garacad [Mudug region].

The damage extended to other parts of the Somali coast, including the Lower Juba area, south of Mogadishu. The livelihoods of many people residing in small villages along the Somali coastline were devastated.

(This report is reproduced with permission via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. Copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005.)