Gift of the Givers given the go ahead

2011-08-02 00:00

LILONGWE (Malawi) — Al-Shabab, the extremist Muslim group that controls the largest portion of the drought-stricken areas in Somalia, has given its permission for Pietermaritzburg-based Gift of the Givers’ mission to the country, to go ahead.

The first of four aircraft loaded with at least 41 tons of emergency supplies, baby food and medicine, plus 19 doctors, nurses and paramedics left South Africa for Malawi on Sunday and was due to land in the Somali capital, Mogadishu yesterday.

Permission had to be obtained from Al-Shabab — which has, up to now, prevented deliveries by several other international emergency relief organisations — because the militia of this terror group and soldiers of the African Union (AU) have been involved in fierce fighting in the north of the city since Thursday.

The terror organisation said that the situation in the country is not as bad as it is being portrayed in the outside world, and is trying to regain control of the African Union forces to stop emergency flights from entering the country.

The organisation said that the emergency flights are merely a smokescreen for all kinds of insurgents from the West to enter the country.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been streaming to Mogadishu, to Kenya and to Ethiopia after the worst drought in about 60 years has stripped the south of the country of all its food supplies.

No rain has fallen in the southern areas in six years.

The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR said that already up to half of the country’s 10 million people are facing starvation.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers, whose mission also includes the South African government’s emergency relief contribution, said they will start moving the paediatricians, emergency doctors and medical personnel to the refugee camps on the outskirts of Mogadishu today.

He said, “We can’t erect a field hospital in a particular spot and expect people to come there, because the sick and the needy are simply too weak.

“We have scores of cases at the moment of children who are so weak because of malnutrition and underfeeding that we will probably simply start emergency medical treatment as soon as possible. Where possible, the doctors will instruct the families on how to continue the treatment when we have to return to South Africa in two weeks’ time.”

He said illnesses like pneumonia, measles and gastric fever currently pose the biggest threats to the already weakened children and adults. However, doctors will get a better idea of the specific needs when they start working in the camps today, so that any additional medicines can be brought on the next cargo flights from South Africa.

The South African mission has the approval of Al-Shabab, and the organisation — which has close ties with Al-Quada — has no problem with South Africa, he said.

Several Western and American emergency relief organisations are forced to take emergency supplies to the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The food crisis in the country has been aggravated precisely because Al-Shabaab has been expelling most Western emergency relief organisations from the country since 2002.

According to estimates, there are currently at least 100 000 refugees in Mogadishu and numbers are rising by the day, Sooliman said.

• Gibson is part of the media contingent travelling with the Gift of the Givers mission.

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