Ruined cathedral offers refuge for drought-hit Somalis

Beneath the soaring arches of the bombed out ruins of Mogadishu’s Roman Catholic cathedral, desperate families fleeing extreme drought and famine put up huts of rag and plastic for shelter.

Over 100 000 people have fled into Somalia’s famine-hit and war-torn capital in the past two months in search of food, water and medicine.

Millions of Somalians are on the brink of starvation. We take a look at some of the worst-hit areas and the aid camps that are struggling to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

But with makeshift camps already overcrowded, hundreds have sought refuge in the crumbling shell of the cathedral, built by Italian colonial authorities in the 1920s but destroyed in years of bloody civil war.

“We had to leave our land, because all the animals died,” said Numur Moalim, who fled the drought-hit Bay region of southern Somalia, taking 15 days to trek into the dangerous capital with his wife and five children.

Huts are built on almost every space inside the cathedral, squeezed between giant chunks of masonry blasted from the still dramatic white stone building, while more huts are packed tight in the overgrown graveyard outside.

“I didn’t come because it was a church, but because I needed protection and shelter, and there was nowhere else to go,” Moalim said.

Sharp cracks of rifle fire ring out close by, with the sounds echoing in the high walls of the building, but Moalim does not flinch.

Shootings are common here, and heavily armed gunmen perched on top of pick-up trucks cruise the sandy streets nearby.

Instead, crouching on the rubble-strewn stone flags of the cathedral’s floor, Moalim tries to chip out holes to slot in thin branches for the poles of the hut.

“We have nothing, and my children cry because they are hungry, but I have not got food to give them,” he added, lifting up some of the plastic bags and small scraps of grubby material that will form the hut’s patchwork roof.

High up on the wall above his head a life-size stone statues of Jesus Christ and his disciples — their heads blasted with bullet holes — stare down on the crowded people struggling for survival below.

Islamic extremists — who still control much of southern and central Somalia and continue with a draconian ban on several foreign agencies — reportedly used the cathedral for target practice.

Conflict-wracked Somalia is the country hardest hit by the extreme drought affecting 12-million people across the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations has officially declared famine in Somalia for the first time this century, including in Mogadishu and four southern regions.

Despite a withdrawal earlier this month from the city by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shebaab rebels, government forces backed by African Union troops continue to struggle to secure one of the world’s most dangerous capitals.

“People died in my village — it was not a choice that we come here,” said Huwa Adan Ismail, from the famine-struck Lower Shabelle region.

“It has rained heavily in the last few nights, and there is no protection from the rain — it is so cold,” she added.

Some of her seven young children peer out from holes in their rag hut, while Ismail struggles to boil a saucepan of grain over an open fire beneath a pillar of the cathedral.

“We are not getting enough support,” said Mohamed Ahmed Ali, a community leader of the cathedral camp.

“People come and take assessments, and we see the aeroplanes coming in over our head to land, but we don’t get the food that they bring,” he added. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Peter Martell
Guest Author

Related stories

It’s not too late to silence the guns in Ethiopia

An open letter from civil society organisations, from across the African continent calls, for an end to the conflict in Ethiopia

African leaders must continue to press for talks: Ethiopia is too big to fail

The conflict in Ethiopia could spill over into the entire Horn of Africa region. AU and regional leaders need to step up their efforts to de-escalate the situation

Ethiopia is about to cross the point of no return

As the conflict between the national government and Tigray escalates, the window for intervention is closing fast

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

The Year of the Locust

About 25 years ago, Baldwyn Torto and his team taught themselves to talk to locusts. Now, Simon Allison brings you the story of the swarms eating their way across the continent

To silence Africa’s guns, empower its youth

It may be impossible to end the cycle of conflict in various countries on the continent without creating jobs for young people

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…