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Four years after the departure of the large-scale international military and humanitarian intervention in Somalia, UNOSOM, Mogadishu remains tense and sometimes dangerous. Pockets of factional fighting still erupt, and there is little real prospect for an established central government or
reliable and authoritative leadership. Yet there have been changes.

Having tested the absolute limits, Mogadishu seems to have exhausted the extremes of social and political anarchy and is now depending as much on the dynamics of enterprise as on the dictates of political leadership. In the peak years of the civil war 1991-1994, the city was a maze of battle fronts. Now, the city enjoys a semblance of routine.

Among the ruins, private enterprise has gained the upper hand, with factional leaders heavily dependent on a small wealthy elite - many of whom fled to the neighbouring and Arab states during the height of the civil war. A tiny number of educated city dwellers have also returned to set up local humanitarian organisations, run private schools, or organise political groups.

An overwhelmingly poor but tenacious population has made homes amongst the shell-shattered houses and offices, or congregates in makeshift camps for the internally displaced. International development aid has effectively been suspended, and those displaced by war and hardship are left to a precarious hand-to-mouth existence - but business is working.

Businessmen in Mogadishu like to refer to the economy s "laissez faire",a euphemism for a no-holds-barred war economy. Dependent on big businessmen, faction leaders like Hussein Aideed make demands at the expense of basic government structures and social services. Aideed told IRIN that Mogadishu has "a lot of millionaire businessmen" who had spent years financing the war, and are now being "justly rewarded" with tax-free conditions.

But in reality, there is no single authority able to impose systematic taxes. Recent attempts to impose taxation by opposition leader Musa Sude Yallahow, for example led to a fresh outbreak of fighting in the capital. The real price being paid for this new business boom is a total absence of public services.


Huge piles of garbage in the streets are big enough to block the passage of vehicles and pedestrians. Rusted and twisted metal litters the destroyed city, and the once striking coastal capital is being overtaken by the elements. The desert is creeping from the outskirts onto the main roads, covering highways with sand, and the small population that continues to live in Mogadishu is forced to lead an essentially rural existence amongst the shattered offices, shops and houses. Sanitation is poor, and the water supply inadequate and often contaminated. What few services exist for these people now depend on local volunteers and private input.

In Benadir Hospital, South Mogadishu - once one of the busiest and most sophisticated hospitals in the city - a handful of voluntary nurses attend to cholera patients lying on the floors in the entrance and the abandoned wards. Intravenous drips hang from window bars. In the nurses' room - a small, bare office - oral rehydration salts are being emptied unceremoniously into a large container of water. Halima Hassan Abdi says she has been a nurse for more than 32 years in Benadir Hospital, and still
turns up most days on a voluntary basis. "I work part of the day
here, then spend the rest of the day in the market to make some money," she says. Staff on duty say they have received about 50 suspected cholera cases a day since mid-March, with the numbers now declining. The death rate recorded at Benadir was described as relatively low, with one or two - mostly children - dying each day.

For the most severe cases, the staff say they rely on the hospital director, Dr Abdulrazak, buying antibiotics from local pharmacies. A limited amount of emergency surgery is still carried out by Dr Abdulrazak on a private basis at the hospital, mainly for road traffic accidents, hernias and caesarean births. Patients or their relatives have to be able to purchase intravenous drips, antibiotics, drugs etc as well as pay a doctor's fee.

According to a UNICEF official, some 30 percent of patients in hospitals in southern Somalia and Mogadishu suffer from gunshot, knife and stick wounds. Most other cases needing surgery relate to maternal problems, reflecting on the near absence of clinics and basic maternal health care. Birth complications are also linked to female genital mutilation and the poor socio-economic standing of women.


Makeshift camps of displaced Somalis and refugees (primarily originating from Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s) have mushroomed in the city since the fall of Siad Barre's government in 1991. Most of the dome-shaped huts are made from paper, sticks, sacks and cloth scavenged from the growing mountains of rubbish, with barriers of scrap metal delineating different
sections of the camps. Some camps receive rudimentary help from
humanitarian agencies or Islamic organisations, but the vast majority of internally displaced people must rely on their own survival skills. At four different camps visited in south Mogadishu, people reported new arrivals from southern Somalia (because of "drought and insecurity") and from the Ethiopia-Somalia border (because of "Ethiopian attacks" on Bula How, Dolo and Lugh since 1997).

Many families in the camps have been repeatedly displaced, and for some, it is their second or third time in the capital. Some arrive seeking relatives, but others come because it remains a traditional migration route - even with Mogadishu's precipitous decline, the displaced still expect the capital to provide opportunities. The majority interviewed said they survived by begging, by receiving food scraps, and by earning a little cash by providing "carrying services" to people in the market -
earning about 2,000 - 3,000 Somali shillings a day.

Conflict, drought and flood have battered Habeba Mohamed, who arrived in Masala Camp in February from Bay region, because of "drought and food shortage". She left her home for the first time in 1991 when "invading clans" looted animals and killed family members, but returned to Dinsor in 1992. She found her property looted and destroyed and her livestock gone -"I collected wood and built a new home". She started farming again, but says her sorghum was destroyed by drought this year "when the floods [in 1998] finished, the drought started". Her six children are healthy, she says, but she suffers from chest pains and coughing, and is surviving by begging.

Camp managers and volunteers say some of the main problems in the camps are TB, pneumonia, skin diseases, malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, cholera and malnutrition. In Tribune Camp, volunteer manager Jahawir Mohamed complained of security problems with thieves and outbreaks of fighting inside the different sections of the camp. She said one resident had killed another in a knife attack early April, and had been taken to an Islamic court. The two clans were called, and the aggrieved party given the option of killing one man or demanding payment. Eventually payment of
100,000 Somali shillings was agreed, although are problems in raising the money.

Islamic organisations provide some assistance to the displaced, but mainly during Muslim festivals. Some 20 or 30 head of sheep are delivered to each camp for the Eid festival. Otherwise, Islamic organisations are concentrating on orphanages, funding Koranic schools, or injecting money into business ventures. The main Islamic organisations operating in Mogadishu are the International Islamic Relief Organisation; Al Haramayn; Al-Islah Charity; Monazamat Al-da'wa; African Muslim Agency and Muslim Aid UK. Western humanitarian organsiations maintaining a rudimentary presence in Mogadishu are ICRC, MSF Spain, Action Internationale Contra la Fame, Peace and Life (Sweden), and Daily Bread from Germany. United Nations offices include representatives from UNDP, FAO, UNHCR, WFP and WHO. These humanitarian agencies presently have no permanent expatriate presence and depend on a skeleton structure of local staff.

Some local Somali humanitarian organisations have made efforts to work in the camps, but lack funding. For example, the Somali Refugee Agency SORA, founded in December 1998, has mapped out the camps and compiled lists of families, adults and children, as well as the main health and sanitation problems. It has recorded 138 camps in Mogadishu, North and South. SORA estimates that refugees make up about 30% of the camps. But the NGO ACF
estimates 234,000 displaced Somalis alone live in 201 camps in Mogadishu.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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