With 2.6 million internally displaced persons in Somalia, the outbreak of COVID-19 poses an additional challenge in an already fragile situation, leaving the population highly vulnerable.
Thankfully, the African Development Bank-financed water supply and sanitation project came in handy as a critical control intervention, although COVID-19 was not anticipated in 2016 when the project was launched.
Through its implementing agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), internally displaced persons (IDPs), hard-to-reach rural communities and vulnerable populations now have access to clean water. The project is also promoting good sanitation and hygiene practices by constructing public handwashing stands to help slow the spread of COVID-19 across vulnerable communities in Somalia.
The project received funding from the United Kingdom within the framework of the Multi-Partner Somalia Infrastructure Fund, established in October 2016 to mobilise resources for rehabilitation and development of infrastructure, and related skills development and institutional capacity building. Other donors who have contributed to the Fund include the European Union, Italy and the Islamic Development Bank.
“The African Development Bank and the International Organization for Migration were the first partners to provide us with handwashing facilities and to create community awareness of COVID-19,” said Mohamed Sheik Aden, a medical officer in the Kismayo District in Jubaland.
The $10.4 million Improving Access to Water Supply and Sanitation in Rural Somalia Project, which is to be completed in December 2020, also aims to reduce mortality among children under 5 years.
So far, the project has rehabilitated 26 boreholes and 30 mini water systems, providing 85,282 households with access to clean water. The boreholes are equipped with 18KW solar power systems to ensure their operational sustainability. An additional 30 mini-water systems are currently being constructed under the project and, once completed will provide clean water to an additional 20,000 households.
“The continuous hygiene promotion has helped those of us in IDP camps to better understand the pandemic and how handwashing is critical to prevention,’’ said Halima Aden of the Danwadaag IDP settlement in Dhobley Port of Entry.
In close coordination with the Somali Ministry of Water and Energy, Ministry of Health, and Federal Member States, 62 handwashing points have been established at health facilities, ports of entry, markets, and community centres in Kismayo and Dhobley IDP sites in Jubaland State.
Additional 60 handwashing points will be established in the coming months.
By the end of May 2020, the project had provided access to handwashing facilities to 60,000 people and distributed soap and sanitary materials to 2,209 vulnerable households. This intervention has helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. There are plans to distribute washing soap to 2,000 vulnerable households over the next weeks.
Hygiene promoters have been engaged to educate communities on preventive practices, in line with World Health Organization guidelines. These efforts have improved hygiene levels in the camps, helping vulnerable communities and families curb the spread of the coronavirus and other sanitation-related diseases.
As at the end of May 2020, there were 81 trained hygiene promoters with a target to reach 14,368 vulnerable households (80,311 individuals). There were also 225 community hygiene workers. COVID-19 prevention materials were translated in Somali language and distributed. There are plans to reach an additional 10,000 households (60,000 people) over the next weeks.
“I now have the opportunity to clean my hands before and after visiting the health centre in my community. This is critical to the prevention of COVID-19,” said a user simply identified as Aisha.
“Before the handwashing facilities were installed, patients coming to the centres had contact with walls, chairs, tables and sometimes with us, increasing the risks for everyone to get infected,” said Hamdi Muktar, a client at a health facility in Alaneley.