Now wash your hands, please

By Hussein Mohamed Hassan and Mary Sanyu Osire

From 16 to 22 October 2013, IOM coordinated "Global Hand Washing Day" activities across Somalia. The worldwide event, held annually on 15 October, was spread across seven days. On different dates, at different locations, a grand total of 9,780 women, men and children converged in 10 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlements and three schools in Burao, Somaliland, Mogadishu, Dhobley and Luuq. We spoke to Hussein Mohamed Hassan, Health Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant with IOM Somalia, based in Dollow.

The heat dulls my senses as I walk into Kabasa IDP settlement in Dollow, Gedo Region, Somalia. Spurred by community workers, residents flock in their hundreds to a makeshift shelter in the middle of the IDP settlement. Soon, the air is filled with laughter, as women twist their waists to enchanting Somali music. After speeches, hygiene sensitization poems, and hand washing demos, families queue to receive bars of soap, and water containers.

Here’s the thing: This is the second consecutive year that IOM is coordinating "Global Hand Washing Day" activities across Somalia – but is our Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programme making a difference?

The past two decades of conflict has resulted in a huge deterioration of water, sanitation and hygiene across Somalia. And ongoing displacement is increasing pressure on already over-extended WASH infrastructure.

IOM provides clean and safe water in parallel with hygiene promotion to some of Somalia’s most vulnerable mobile populations, and their host communities.

The water is provided through a water treatment facility that purifies high turbid water using Japanese flocculation technology known as “Poly-Glu” and disinfects the water with chlorination.

Started in 2011 targeting IDPs in Mogadishu and their host communities, IOM has scaled up its WASH activities across Somalia and is now providing more than 60,000 persons access to 11 million liters of clean and safe water supply each month (7.5 liters per person per day), in addition to running an array of hygiene promotion activities.

Fatuma Issack is a 32-year-old mother of five who was evacuated from Bay Region, Somalia to escape prolonged periods of drought and volatile security. She currently makes her home in Kabasa IDP settlement with three of the five children she was able to escape Bay Region with. “We have always used river water for all our needs – our children bathe in the water, we wash clothes in it, and carry some home for drinking. After we started drinking the water provided by IOM, we were surprised. Many of our children stopped having as many cases of diarrhea as they had before.”

A study conducted to assess the impact of IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme among some of the most vulnerable mobile populations in Somalia indicates remarkable progress with up to 34 per cent fewer diarrhea cases between April 2012 and March 2013. 

The study also shows that during the period access to safe water increased from five to 12 litres per person per day in Mogadishu.

As a result of hygiene promotion, open defecation cases dropped by 81 per cent and the irresponsible disposal of babies’ faeces by 62 per cent in Burao. In Garowe observed cases of people dipping their fingers into drinking water while drawing it fell by 85 per cent.

According to the UN, in 2012 only an estimated 30 per cent of Somalia’s population had access to safe and clean water.

It is clear that IOM’s WASH programme is making a difference in Somalia, yet a lot still remains to be done.


Hussein Mohamed Hassan is an IOM health programme assistant and Mary Sanyu Osire is a communications officer in Somalia