Rethinking Humanitarian aid in Somalia: Could New Kismayo be a model for future Re-settlements?


By Maryan A. Dualle,


Somalia is home to ever increasing number of internally displaced people ((IDP) and returning refugees from Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia. Currently approximately two million (IDPs) and over 250,000 (returnees) live in the country[i], of which over 70% live in Banadir region and other Southern states of the country (Kismayo, Baidio, etc.). IDPs in Somalia live in severe poverty and depend on humanitarian aid for basic services and many returnees are joining the IDPs, especially in Kismayo. In most of Somalia’s major cities one will find clusters of IDP camps with famous names such as Dalxiiska, Washington, Horseed …etc., which are overcrowded and lack decent shelter, toilets, safe water provision, health services, and education among other services. Kismayo town already hosts over 80,000 IDPs and is receiving more than 70% of Dadaab returnees. Jubaland state is a new state with limited resources, infrastructure and institutional capacity to provide essential services to current residents including IDPs let alone to cope with the needs of the influx of returnees. Thus, consort efforts are needed to better resettle and support both IDPs and returnees in Kismayo in order to avoid high scale human suffering due to communal violence, disease outbreaks, famine, and the likes. Efforts towards this end do exist and are ongoing as evident by many high level meeting held in the last few years (e.g.Tripartite Agreement with Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR, Global Initiative on Somali Refugees in Geneva; the Addis Ababa Commitment by the five countries in the region hosting Somali Refugees; Partnership Forum held in Mogadishu on July 2015; the 2016 GA meeting in September’s Commitment to Refugee Response;  IGAD meetings in Mogadishu, Entebbe,  Nairobi for declaration on durable solutions for Somali…) and platforms, working groups and commission (e.g. NCRI, CRRF, etc.) established in the last five years. Furthermore, Jubaland state government and aid partners’ collaboration has resulted in the pioneering of a new permanent resettlement in Kismayo, where Jubaland government a located a land in the outskirt of Kismayo (New Kismayo) to be built for small percent of Refugees, IDP and poor host community.

New Kismayo Settlement 

Almost a year ago, when I heard about the new Kismayo settlements I was very sceptical and was worried it will become a new Dadaab in Kismayo. I was assured by government bodies and partners alike that, since the residents were going to be a mixed of all of Kismayo population (IDPs, Returnees and host community) the settlement would not be another Dadaab. As I learned more about the settlement plans and the fact that they were designed to be self-sufficient villages with basic services (e.g. water, police stations, markets, schools, health facilities, etc.) I bought the idea and believed it had the potential to greatly improve people’s lives. Initial there were two settlements, one on Via Afmadow road consisting of 500 households (one room and one toilet on a 15X12 plot) built by International Organization for Migration (IOM) and another West of Caafi water company consisting of 800 household (similar design as the IOM settlement) built by Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). American Refugee Council (ARC) later added another similar 200 household settlement near the NRC settlement. ARC is also currently building another 100 household village with two rooms, an awning and toilet north of the NRC/ARC settlement.

While the design of the settlements was reasonable in terms of amenities, the funding and implementation were not as comprehensive. The shelter cluster was the lead cluster that developed the settlement plans with the help of Jubaland government and received funding for the rooms and toilets in the hopes that other clusters (Education, Health, WASH, Food Security, etc.) will  also come in to fill the provision of other basic services such as water, health care, schools and so forth. To their credit, they have shared the master plan with other clusters and encouraged them to fill the gaps. This was a history in the making and many wanted to jump in and put their name on the list, however, the resulting resources were delayed and fragmented, which made the completion of the project susceptible to myriad of different procurement policies that made the process painstakingly slow and close to impossible to coordinate. As a result, rooms and toilets were built way before any other service in both settlements. The lead agencies (IOM, NRC and ARC) and the Jubaland government (Jubaland ministry of interior with Refugee and IDPs Agency (JRIA)) and the local government found themselves in a catch 22. On one hand finished new structures (rooms and toilets) were at risk for squatting and illegal land grapping and in order to protect the investment they needed to move people in and on the other hand, moving families into the settlements without basic services, especially water was difficulty, in humane and seemed out of question for a while, however, with donor pressure, the promise of water trucking, brackish water shallow wells and future borehole drilling, the government caved in and allowed people to be moved in!

Signs of Hope

I have recently visited the finished and now occupied settlements and was pleasantly surprise how they have transformed from the hunted looking, unfriendly structures from my last visit to bustling villages full of live, businesses and creative modifications to make the units more habitable. For a minute, I thought we were lost and not in the settlements, because great percentage of the single rooms were modified to have shades, business kiosks and iron sheet or branch fencings. Residents were busy with activities (e.g. selling, buying, building, collecting water, visiting the mobile health and nutrition clinic, etc.) and children ran around laughing and chasing one another. These people did not act or looked like refugees or IDPs (hopeless, tired, worried, etc.), rather they looked, hopeful, empowered and at home. My above observations (of how these people felt) were later confirmed by many quick interviews with mothers and fathers in these settlements. They all said in different words “We thank Allaha (SWT), for giving us the opportunity to be here in our own country, have this land and home and not have to worry about rent and or evictions.” This seems the perfect strategy to resettle returnees, IDPs and poor (none-home owner) host community in order to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods. However, while this model has the potential to be the exit strategy of Somali’s protracted humanitarian crisis, it is far from perfect. The initiative for the government to give land deeds to vulnerable population , especially returnees and IDPs and the support from humanitarian and development partners to design and build these settlements are great and could truly change Somalia humanitarian aid as we know it, if it is implemented correctly. Yet, there are over-looming stressors “ticking bombs” that could completely undermined this promising effort.

Ticking Bombs 

As happy as these people looked, they were only few questions (e.g. what services have you received thus far? What are the current gaps? etc.) away from tears in their eyes and shaky voices that betrayed their strength and confidence in the system. All of sudden the burden of the choices they had to make and the trade-offs are visible in their eyes and the light of hope, empowered and at home fades into thin air. One after another they describe their impossible situation of being between “rock and a hard place”, on one hand they were given a lifetime opportunity to own their own homes and not feel refugees or displaced anymore and on the other hand, they had to move in to their new homes without essential services. Pulling kids out of school; not having enough water for drinking and domestic use and not having access to health services or referral system (e.g. ambulance) in case of an emergency are high prices to pay. These people were under the impression that they were going to lose the new homes if they did not move in right away, thus choosing to suffer if that is what it took for them to own their own homes. Many school aged children assembled near us as I talk to people and kept asking me when the school will be opened, which made parents more emotional. The water scarcity was painfully visible with lines of Jeri- cans waiting for trucked water for hours, and people at the back of the line were worried that they might not even get water when the truck comes. Kismayo water is saline and is not drinkable, however, it can be used for other domestic needs including sanitation and hygiene. Unfortunately, there is limited saline water available at the settlements at the moment (one shallow well at IOM settlement and two new shallow wells at NRC/ARC) settlements, which are not still enough for the number of households. In addition, the settlements are far away from the town and what little water the residents may find are too expensive for them ($3-4 a barrel), which means proper hygiene and sanitation are impossible and risk of diarrheal diseases is high in the settlements.

This is not to say that the government, donors and implementing NGOs want people to suffer and are doing this intentionally, on the contrary, they are trying to improve the situation, by trucking fresh drinking water, drilling boreholes (saline water) and building health facilities, markets and police stations. The question is would they be able to finish these projects fast enough to prevent the looming disasters/ticking bombs? The lack of water and health services in the settlements is a public health disaster waiting to happen. Similarly, the lack of schools puts youth at risk for radicalization and unlawful behaviours and sets these families back from economic recovery and exacerbates the vicious cycle of poverty to continue and finally, the lack of security in the settlements puts the whole community at harm’s way and increases the risk of sexual violence against women and children. All these issues cumulate to negative outcome of otherwise a great project and the whole project can fail due to poor planning and premature resettlement of families before basic services were available.

How to Minimize the Negative Outcomes

There is a window of opportunity that needs to be seized in order to avert and or minimize the negative outcome of the abovementioned issues. Those who already moved into the settlements are motivated and committed because their need for housing is so great they are willing to forgo other essential services for a bit, but they might not be able to endure for a long time. Thus, gaps need to be closed immediately before these people lose hope and move back to the IDP camps or bigger disasters (e.g. disease outbreak, violence, etc.) ensue. Closing the gaps needs both short term and long term plans for water, schools, security and health care among other thing.

There are long term plans for water supplies in the settlements that include drilling boreholes (saline water) for domestic use, setting up water kiosks and working with private water company (Caafi) to provide fresh drinking water to the settlements for reasonable cost. However, this is a long process and it will take a while. In the meantime people need temporary water supply. Already fresh water is being trucked by NGO, even though they are not enough, but the biggest gap still exists for brackish water for domestic use. To this end, more shallow (2-3 wells in each settlement) wells need to be fixed as soon as possible or water vouchers need to be provided for the households. In addition all efforts need to be made to continue water trucking for the short-term and operationalize enough kiosks (3-4 kiosks/ 500 families) with Caafi or alternative drinking water (e.g. from desalination plans).

Similarly, while the other services are being established, the Jubaland government line ministries, local government and involved local and international partners need to provide short-term solution for schools, health care and security at minimum. The following steps could minimize the negative impact of the abovementioned gaps.

Schools: Providing bus service for school age children so they can continue going to school while the schools are being set up or setting up temporary schools by engaging teachers returning from Dadaab and building non-permanent shelter for a makeshift school are necessary in the meantime.

Healthcare: Establishing new mobile health and nutrition clinics in Via Afmadow settlement and continuing to support the existing health and nutrition mobile clinic at the NRC/ARC settlements (implemented by Save the Children), which ran out of funding at the February is critical in order to minimize disease outbreaks and minimize human suffering.

Security: Moving in the planned security units as soon as possible to monitor the security of the settlements at all times (shift based) is must. There is a community center in each of the settlements that could be used temporarily for security points.

The abovementioned measures could be the difference between failure and success of this initiative.

Applying Improved New Kismayo Model for the Future
As I mentioned before, the new Kismayo settlements are promising initiatives that could provide a blue print on how to resettle the millions of Somalis that are either displace in the country or are returning from refugee camps around the world. The short comings of the current settlements should serve as a lesson learned for stakeholders to plan more comprehensive and well-coordinated future settlements. As a result of the aforementioned gaps ARC with the help of UNHCR and European Union (EU) is building a comprehensive settlement with better units (two rooms, canopy and toilet) and includes all of the basic service infrastructures for 100 families near the pervious ARC/NRC settlements. Time will tell if all services will be available before the families are moved in. Also, both the government and partners have to be mindful of community conflict since the new settlement is perceived better than previous settlements. Resettlement of refugees and IDPs is well practiced and documented globally and it is meant to ensure returnees and IDPs proper reintegration into their new community and contributing to the long term economic and political development of their new home. Land ownership and strong support for reintegration and rehabilitation are per request for successful resettlement.

I think it is an opportune time for Somalia to think and plan for mass scale resettlement, since the current IDP situation is unsustainable; thousands of refugees are returning both through voluntary and repatriation; and the country is defining its priorities as it emerges from the protracted civil war. This will required prioritizing resettlement in the national development plan, setting up and capacitating the appropriate government agencies, developing land ownership and resettlement policies, studying different types of resettlements and communicating these priorities and plans with partners to ensure systemic transition to recovery and resilience.

By Maryan A. Dualle, B.S., MPH.
Public Health Nutritionist
Kismayo Somalia

[i] National Commission for Refugees and IDPs (NCRI), 2017.