Troop Presence in Somalia Enables Relief Agencies To Deal in Development

A COLUMN of Australian Army tanks rumbles down the main street here, soldiers on top, hands on the triggers of their automatic rifles.

But the scene is a peaceful one, as the tanks skirt a jammed outdoor market, squeeze past decrepit buses and taxis, and pass a sea of pedestrians. Dozens of small shops have reopened.

Killings and some armed looting still occur here and along the road leading to the capital, Mogadishu, including the killing last Friday of the driver of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) pickup truck.

Hunger remains a threat in many rural areas, staved off in towns like this one by daily feeding programs.

Many Somalis in various parts of the country are still "teetering on the edge," says Rhodri Winn-Pope, team leader in Somalia for the US-based relief and development agency CARE.

But the relative peace and safety foreign troops have brought to several Somali towns since their December arrival has allowed Western and Somali relief agencies to begin moving cautiously beyond emergency feeding to rehabilitation, development, and resettlement of the many displaced Somalis who fled to places such as Baidoa to escape famine and civil war.

The relief agency Save the Children-UK, for example, is beginning to repair water pumps and wells vandalized during the war, and to install electrical generators in some towns.

Here in Baidoa, the center of much of the fighting and famine over the past two years, two renovated public schools were opened in early January, paid for by the Irish relief agency Concern. Four more are due to open soon.

"I think it's physical proof everything is possible again in a country like Somalia," says an excited Mark Mullan, who is in charge of the renovations for Concern.

A number of relief agencies here are beefing up their staffs and expanding their work in villages. International Medical Corps, a US-based agency operating here, is training village health workers. Larger staffs and village work were considered extremely dangerous ventures before the foreign troops arrived, according to relief workers here.

"Anyone here a month ago [before the troops arrived on Dec. 9] was not thinking of development," says Delores Nulty, a nurse and the field director here of Goal, another Irish relief agency.

Before troops arrived in Baidoa, numerous heavily armed pickups belonging to gangs from outside clans cruised the streets, terrorized people here. Looting and shooting, that gangs attacked not only relief supplies but relief agencies. Gunfire was a constant feature of life here. Now it is rare.

But such attacks are not over in Somalia. Already this year, a UNICEF employee was shot by Somalis in the coastal town of Kismayo Jan. 2. Kurt Lustenberger of the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed in a robbery in Bardera Jan. 14. And a US Marine was killed Jan. 12 by a sniper in Mogadishu. The threat from widely held weaponry is far from over in Baidoa, says Mohamed Ibrahim Hussein, the region's new governor.

"The people have hidden their guns in the houses," he says. He calls for foreign troops to expand their presence beyond the eight towns they initially secured, to such towns as Buur Hakaba, between here and Mogadishu, where the CRS driver was killed Friday.

Dr. Mohamed, a veterinarian, also calls on relief agencies to open additional feeding centers in that and other areas, and "help the displaced go back to their villages," by providing live stock or farming items to allow them to start over.

Relief workers for World Vision recently have found "people dying in their homes" in the Buur Hakaba area, says Bernard Vicary, the agency's health coordinator in Baidoa. The people did not know food was available in some feeding centers in the region, he said.

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