Wednesday, July 09, 2008

UNICEF spotlights forgotten humanitarian crisis in Somalia

UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken recently returned from Kenya and Somalia. UNICEF provides children in war-torn nations with health care, education, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. Somalia is one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. Clay shares his impressions, frustrations and concerns for the children he met there. This is the first in a series of blog posts he will write about his experiences in these 2 African countries.

Fieldnotes: Blogging on UNICEF's child survival work in the field

Clay Aiken asks:

Where is the outrage?

I recently returned from a UNICEF field visit that took me to northwest Somalia. What I saw there was both amazing and heartbreaking. In many ways, the children I was able to meet are doing better than their counterparts in the rest of Somalia. But in other respects, the situation there is still quite serious.

© US Fund for UNICEF / 2008 / Nick Ysenburg
UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken with children he met on his recent visit to Somalia.

For starters, the lack of a permanent central government has contributed to Somalia's status as one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. Decades of civil conflict have shattered social structures and exacerbated poverty.

In such conditions—combined with an extremely arid environment and difficult terrain with settlements scattered over vast distances—a Somali child's chances of surviving to adulthood are among the lowest of children anywhere in the world.

Fortunately, UNICEF is there. It has been on the ground since 1972 and is the humanitarian organization with the largest presence in Somalia.

Since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, UNICEF has continued to provide services to children and women in Somalia.

In Hargeisa, I visited UNICEF-supported schools and hospitals, as well as places girls are able to learn about leadership, get life-skills and play sports. I also visited UNICEF-supported maternal and child health clinics to observe some nutritional feeding and immunization activities. The good news is that these programs are working in the northwest and keeping children alive. The bad news is that one in eight children still dies before his or her fifth birthday in Somalia.

© US Fund for UNICEF / 2008 / Nick Ysenburg

One of the most incredible things I learned on my trip is that there are only 350 doctors left in the entire country, mostly because of the violence and insecurity. And many of these doctors are older than the average life expectancy in Somalia, which is only 45. I can't help but wonder, what is going to happen in a couple of years when there are no more doctors? What will happen to the children who struggle to survive?

What disturbs me most about this terrible situation for children is that most of the world has ignored it. Millions of children live in fear and poverty—where is the outrage?

At least we know something can be done. Help UNICEF save and improve the lives of children in Somalia. Donate online, right now.

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