Serkan DemirtaşANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
The physical and mental state of millions of Somalis has begun changing for the better thanks to the hard work of Turkish humanitarian institutions, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent has said.
“If you ask me, Somalis have shaken themselves and changed their fate. They were in a hopeless case even though they had a very bright history. But after the massive campaign Turkey launched, the face of Somalia
and Somalis is now changing,” Ahmet Lütfü Akar, head of the Kızılay (Red Crescent), said in a recent interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.
Somalia, the world’s poorest country, has been hit by two decades of civil war and faced one of its worst droughts last year, leading Turkey and its people to extend help through a major campaign personally launched by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
last year. The prime minister led a huge delegation to Somalia
in August 2011 and launched a restructuring campaign with the participation of both state and civilian institutions.
Women, children in better health condition
“As a result of our meticulous work in less than a year, the infant mortality rate has been drastically reduced. The health situation of women and children has been improved. We have dealt with the problems of malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions and a lack of medicine. That has boosted the hopes of Somali people for the future,” Akar said.
But, Akar said, it has not been an easy task to heal the wounds of a nation that has suffered two decades of negligence, which has led to the deterioration of the already-poor living conditions of Somalis.
“What we first did was establish a tent city. Currently, around 15,000 Somalis reside in our
2,500 tents, which we plan to expand. All their needs, like food, health and clean water are provided by the Kızılay with the collaboration of other state and civilian institutions. Dozens of ships and cargo planes transported necessary equipment and humanitarian aid,” he said.
The tent city has also provided new opportunities for local Somalis. A number of them have been working in food distribution, making bread and helping Kızılay officials in the mobile kitchens.
“People living in the tent city enjoy much better conditions compared to their earlier lives. We received a lot of appreciation from the United Nations and other international aid agencies for the order and arrangements in the city,” he said.
Because they cannot provide shelter for everyone in Mogadishu at the tent city, the next project is to turn the dirty, neglected capital into a livable place, Akar said.
“Urban transformation will be an important sign of the improvement of the conditions. At the
beginning, we launched a campaign for the collection of garbage. We have also paid locals who collected garbage. We can say the streets of Mogadishu are better now,” Akar said.
With the cooperation of Istanbul’s mayor, 77 heavy construction vehicles, including garbage trucks, will be brought to Somalia
after June 15 to help in the overall urban transformation, he said. “We are planning to fix the ruinous landscape of the town and built new roads. In addition, we are also planning to have all buildings painted white to create a cleaner environment.”
Kızılay and Istanbul Municipality also plan to build a concrete plant and a factory to produce furniture. “We have completed feasibility studies and are ready to go out to tender,” he said.
The Kızılay head also announced that his institution bought two separate plots of land to build a medical vocational high school for both male and female students, as well as a Turkish Foundation to symbolize the Turkish people’s generosity toward the Somalis. “The protector of this foundation is our President Abdullah Gül. This is slated to reflect Turkey’s aim to leave a permanent symbol behind us,” he said. ‘As long as they need us’
For Akar, it will take around 1.5 to two years for Kızılay to complete its projects and leave Somalia. “But we will, of course, continue to help them as long as they need us,” Akar said.
There are currently 15 Kızılay officials in Somalia
who have rented a house and stay together. “Security conditions are very bad. They are in danger. But this is the difference between us and other countries’ humanitarian agencies. They are not in Mogadishu because there is no five-star hotel,” he said.