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2004 Tsunami Crisis: Impact on Somalia

Somalia was the hardest hit nation from Africa, with damages resulting from the tsunami concentrated in the region of Puntland, on the tip of the Horn of Africa.  Nearly 300 Somalis are known confirmed died, with many hundreds of fishermen still unaccounted for.  The water destroyed 1,180 homes, smashed 2,400 boats and rendered freshwater wells and reservoirs unusable according to a UN report.  An estimated 50,000 people have been displaced and are left homeless.   

The tsunami adds further concern to a country afflicted with many problems already.  Intermittent civil war has been a fact of life in Somalia since 1977, and the country has no recognized central government authority, national currency, or any other feature associated with a well-established nation state.  De facto authority is in the hands of the governments of the unrecognized entities of Somaliland, Puntland and small groups of rival warlords who lead small opposing governments.  This has made relief efforts in the country very difficult since the lack of a functioning government makes it hard to deliver a meaningful assessment of its needs.  The lack of any stable infrastructure has also contributed challenges in aid delivery.     

One of the world's poorest and least developed countries, Somalia has few natural resources which further adds to seemingly hopeless situation felt by many Somalis.  Agriculture is the most important sector, with livestock accounting for about 40% of GDP and about 65% of export earnings.  Nomads and semi-nomads, who are dependent upon livestock for their livelihood, make up a large portion of the population.  After livestock, bananas are the principal export; sugar, sorghum, maize, and fish are products for the domestic market.  However, civil war have significantly dimished agricultural production. 

Here are some of the tsunami-related stories coming out of Somalia:

- United Nations officials feel that relief efforts have largely forgotten about the African nations afflicted by the tsunami.  While the focus have been on the south Asian nations of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, many people seem to forget that Somalia is in desperate need of aid, even before the tsunami struck.  Displaced families in Somalia desperately need clean water, food, medicine or shelter as most of their homes and possession were swept away.  The UN has called for $13 Million to help tsunami victims in Africa, with the nations of Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique, and Madagascar also affected.  Unicef has been assisting 12,000 people in the villages of Hafun, Gara'g, Bender Beyla and Eyl on the northeastern coastline of Somalia.  With local water sources being contaminated, Unicef is also collaborating with the Somali Red Crescent Society to provide household chlorination.  Limited amounts of safe drinking water are also being transported from 92 km away in trucks.

- British Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes that the new “spirit of generosity” will carry over to benefit Africa in the wake of the horrendous tsunami disaster.  Blair pledged that Africa would become a key focal area when Britain takes over the presidency of the EU. 

Blair said that there is no reason why help for the victims of the present disaster should come at the expense of those who suffer from sub-Saharan Africa's more silent emergencies, and from chronic poverty.  ActionAid, a charity and development organization, said that deaths as a result of poverty and preventable diseases in Africa amounted to the equivalent of the tsunami death toll every week.  Consider these facts:

- Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer in the past 25 years.

- Africa is the continent with the largest number of people living on less than a dollar a day - 49% of the total population.

- One in three African is undernourished.

- Twenty-eight million people in Africa are now affected by HIV/Aids.

- There are 11 million orphans in Africa as a result of Aids.

- Africa also accounts for 90% of global deaths from malaria, and a woman in Africa is over 100 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in a developed country.