Drought, floods and death from the sea leave people struggling to survive in a country that knows little but grief
JULIAN RADEMEYER: Hafun, Somalia
Sunday Times, 6 Feb 2005
SOMALIS call it the "triple disaster".
came four years of unrelenting drought that ended in October with
torrential downpours. Then came the floods and a deadly cold spell that
decimated livestock. Finally the tsunami struck.
Now on the easternmost tip of the Horn of Africa, thousands of people are facing a desperate struggle for survival.
the remote town of Hafun, where the economy depends almost entirely on
fishing, boats lie damaged and discarded by those too afraid to venture
into the sea.
The local shipbuilder and repairman was among those killed.
eight weeks, the weather is expected to become so windy and severe that
fishing will not be possible for at least four months.
the Pietermaritzburg charity Gift of the Givers flew 35 tons of food
worth R3-million to the semi- autonomous region of Puntland, where
Hafun is situated.
Thirty tons were distributed in the town and a
group of doctors visited residents to assess their needs and provide
basic medical care.
It was the first donation of its kind
from an African country to the devastated region and the forgotten
victims of the world's worst natural disaster in living memory.
3m wave reduced 600 houses in Hafun – virtually the entire town – to
rubble seven hours after the tsunami first struck in Sumatra on
December 26, 5000km away.
Nineteen people have been confirmed
dead in Hafun and at least 130 are missing, presumed dead, although the
nomadic lives of many in the region make certainty difficult. About
54000 people in Puntland have been affected.
For the survivors the nightmares remain, memories of terror and tragedy they will never shake.
Mahado Mohammed, 20, was at home with her two children when the tsunami struck at about 1pm.
suddenly flooded the house and then retreated as quickly as it had
come. Peering outside, she saw a massive wave bearing down on the town.
She was forced to make a ghastly split-second choice. Snatching
up her two-year-old daughter, Khadra, she ran to the safety of higher
"My son Mahmoud, who was six, was sleeping. I had to leave him behind. We found him in the house later. He died.
"God did this. I don't know why. It is something I don't understand," she said this week.
four days after the tsunami struck, Ali Goh drifted at the mercy of the
sea. He clung to a piece of wreckage from the boat in which he and his
brother Jama, 30, had been fishing.
The sea carried him more than 100km along the Somali coastline until a boat crew spotted him.
is a land the world has all but forgotten. Fourteen years of clan
warfare have left millions dead or displaced. War, famine, pestilence
and death have become familiar horrors.
In the south,
clan-based militias and warlords vie for control. The country's
"transitional government" remains in exile in Kenya, afraid to return
to the capital, Mogadishu, where anarchy reigns and gunmen roam the
In Puntland, a federal government-in-waiting has
managed to bring an uneasy peace to the region. But reminders of the
conflict remain – houses fortified with battlements and barbed wire,
militias cruising the dusty streets in "technicals" (bakkies fitted
with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers) and gunmen acting as
security for aid agencies.
The relative stability has
attracted thousands of refugees from the south. Clustered in camps,
many have been homeless for up to 14 years.
believed to be 25000 of them in Puntland's economic capital and port
city, Bosaso. At one squalid camp, which houses about 4500 people,
Khadija Ahmed-Hajji said she had fled the central Shabele region in
1994 when militias looted the family business.
Mohammed Ahmed-Hajji, 22, was murdered – hurled into a grain threshing
machine – by the gunmen. Women who worked at the business were raped.
Razaq Hashi, a Somali doctor now living in South Africa who accompanied
Gift of the Givers, said: "You can pull anyone out of a crowd and they
will tell you that their daughter was raped or their mother and father
were killed. It is a natural thing in Somalia."