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SOMALIA: Juggling peacekeeping and medical care

MOGADISHU, 17 August 2007 (IRIN) - Already struggling to keep peace in lawless Somalia, African Union (AU) peacekeepers have also been overwhelmed with hundreds of desperate people seeking free treatment at their clinic in the capital Mogadishu.

The heavily guarded makeshift clinic, located near the AU base in southern Mogadishu, is crowded with both wounded soldiers and civilians.

"I came to seek treatment; a landmine exploded on our vehicle yesterday," a female Somali soldier, who only gave her name as Leyla, said. "Four of my wounded colleagues are also admitted here," she added, as she waited for drugs to treat the wounds to her face.

Other bandaged Somali patients and government soldiers lay side by side with Ugandan peacekeepers on small beds. A team of doctors and nurses attended to dozens of other outpatients.

"We are overwhelmed by the crowd; our hands are already full," a male Ugandan nurse told IRIN. "There is a big problem in this country."

On 16 August, nearly a thousand patients, mostly women and children, were camped outside the base after word spread that the peacekeepers had received free drugs from the Islamic relief agency.

"Everybody thinks they can get help," said Major Paddy Ankunda, the AU spokesman in Somalia.

Pointing at dozens of men, women and children trying to get into a military ambulance that transports patients to the clinic, he added: "We cannot sustain these people alone. We need other partners to come on board, especially humanitarian agencies."

Peacekeepers stretched

According to the AU, the number of sick Mogadishu residents seeking free treatment from their facility has continued to increase.

"The Islamic relief agency donated some drugs three days ago [August 13]," Ankunda said. "But we still do not have enough and the number of patients keeps rising by the day."

Uganda sent 1,600 troops to Somalia early this year as part of an anticipated 8,000-strong AU peacekeeping force that would protect the fragile Somali interim government as well maintain peace in the capital.

However, their task has not been easy, and they have so far lost five men to insurgent attacks – a daily occurrence in the Horn of Africa country.

Other African countries, including Burundi, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria had pledged to contribute the rest of the troops but are yet to send in their soldiers. As a result, the Ugandans have found themselves stretched thin and have appealed to other countries to boost the peacekeeping effort.

Aid workers fear that the worsening poverty, growing food insecurity and continuing violence experienced by Mogadishu residents will increase the demands on the peacekeepers.

Early warning agencies on 15 August reported a rapidly worsening food security situation in southern Somalia after the poorest harvest in a decade and escalating insecurity that has disrupted economic activities, caused high inflation and left people displaced.

Nutrition surveys confirmed that acute malnutrition rates in the Shabelle regions were currently above the emergency threshold level of 15 percent and that severe acute malnutrition rates were alarmingly high at 4 percent.

Yet the violence shows no signs of letting up. Between June and July, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 27,000 people left their homes in Mogadishu to shelter in safer places.

Some observers say the conflict has escalated since a national reconciliation conference began in Mogadishu on 15 July. The conference, which is being attended by representatives from Somalia's various clans, is the latest effort to forge a way forward.

"This is not easy," Ankunda said.

High expectations

Despite the challenges facing the AU peacekeepers, those seeking treatment have high expectations. Standing outside the clinic in the hot sun with her sick one year-old son, Binti Mohamed Osman was becoming exasperated.

"My son is suffering from bronchitis and I have been standing in the sun the whole day," she shouted hysterically.

"I do not think my son will get help because there are so many people here also waiting to be treated," she added. "I am really disappointed."



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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