Interview:

An intervention volunteer in Somaliland

Three questions to … humedica coordinator Bernhard Settele

by LKO, 2017/11/10

By mid-October humedica was able to organise a charter flight to bring nearly 18 tons of relief goods from the Memmingen airport to Somaliland, which suffers from a long drought period. This relief measure was not only essential for the survival of the many people affected by the famine, but also an enormous logistic challenge, which could be successfully met with the help of our voluntary coordinator Bernhard Settele.

In the following short interview he reveals his motivation to swap his home desktop in the Allgäu in exchange for the challenge in Eastern Africa, which was not without danger.

Bernhard, why did you decide to apply for the task as relief flight coordinator after humedica´s inquiry?

humedica spokesman Steffen Richter asked me directly whether I could imagine working as a media coordinator accompanying the fright flight and taking care of the journalists on board. This offer was very interesting for me as I was able to follow up close the journey of the relief goods and to document their use on site. humedica had already completed the organisation of the logistic part also with the local partners, so that I could focus on the documentation of the relief measure: thus I could draw fresh attention to this forgotten crisis as well as by my own photos and videos as by the support of the accompanying journalists. After all, people in disaster regions depend on our attention, on being remembered in this fast-paced daily routine of ever changing current news.

”It is extremely challenging and very demanding not to exceed the thin line between what constitutes objective documentation and, on the other side, voyeurism with regard to the suffering of people.”

Even if it may sound doubtful, sometimes it requires courage to take pictures, you would normally refrain from out of respect to the dignity of other fellow human beings.

Besides reporting, which were your other tasks as coordinator before and during the intervention?

In order to prepare for the task, I started to gather information on Somaliland. Actually, I was not really aware of the fact that it is a de facto independent democratic republic, which is not really connected to the chaotic situation in Somalia. On top came the usual preparations for an intervention: the packing of suitable equipment and the obligatory medical check-up.

18 Tonnen Hilfsgüter schickte humedica vom Allgäu Airport in das von der Hungerskrise stark betroffene Somaliland

humedica transported nearly 18 tons of relief goods from the Allgäu Airport to Somaliland, which is severely affected by the famine. Photo: Bernhard Settele

After the landing in Hargeisa, I took care to keep the balance between the necessary security provisions, the according suggestions of our local partners and the interests of the journalists in order to meet all their needs accordingly. Thanks to a high level of professionalism on all sides this worked fantastically – yet it could have been also a totally different story. Luckily, the for Somaliland almost luxurious, but for Central Europe quite simple board and lodging conditions presented no problem at all for our team members.

What impressed you, or even scared you the most in this intervention?

What impressed me most were the people in Somaliland. Due to the worldwide climate changes they fell on ill times through no fault of their own. Furthermore, they are excluded from the participation in the international finance market and the relevant institutions, because their country still is not recognized internationally. Despite all this they were all incredibly friendly and communicative. Everyone, whom we talked to, has voiced his concern to raise attention for their country and their situation. The cameras and the microphones of the journalists were most welcome and everybody had to say something. Either they talked with their hands, with the help of a translator or in often relatively good English.

Another positive aspect was certainly the professionalism and the determination of our local partners. All World Concern employees I met on site worked with a contagious passion and energy. Whether in the office or in the fields: our visit and also the logistics regarding the further use of the delivered relief goods were prepared and run very professionally.

Die Helfer von humedica und World Concern verteilten die hochkalorische Nahrung an unterernährte Babys und Kinder.

humedica and World Concern supporters distributed the high-caloric nutrition to undernourished babies and children. Photo: Wolfgang Zwanzger

The mobile net worked surprisingly good – I would not have expected that. Then again this is quite logical as today this is one of the most important ways to enable communication, which is at the same time quite easy to install. Furthermore, more and more Somalians, who have lived in Europe, the USA or Canada till date, come back with money on their hands and ideas as well in order to rebuild their home country. Communication is therefore one of the vital parts of infrastructure.

On the other hand, the mostly desolate condition of streets and houses even in the capital was alarming. After 25 years of relative peace you can still see many traces of the military conflicts of 1991/92 in rubble heaps and bumpy roads in the capital Hargeisa.

Of course, this is also a consequence of the still outstanding international recognition and the hence defective state finances. With a budget of about 35 millions of US Dollars a year even such a small country with estimated three million inhabitants can not do much to improve the infrastructure. The more as the majority of this budget is spent on military and security in order not to be drawn into the vortex of the chaotic neighbouring state of Somalia.

The further we drove into the country, the poorer the living conditions became. The small villages lining the main street were still quite acceptable. But the camps of the nomads, who have become homeless due to the drought, were shockingly poor.

"Generally, the „tents“ of the nomads are made of shrubs and plastic tarps and exposed to the wind and the sun. In and between these tents linger families and children. Many of them clearly undernourished."

Help from outside is urgently needed. Our high-caloric nourishment, but also the medical relief goods for the local mother-child-hospitals are in safe hands there. As already mentioned, all local personnel, NGO employees as well as practitioners and nurses in the clinics, are all fully engaged.

Zwischen den provisorischen Zelten der Nomaden verteilen die Helfer ihre mitgebrachten Güter.

Among the provisory tents of the nomads the helpers distribute the relief goods they brought along. Photo: Bernhard Settele

Finally, a small ray of hope: upon our arrival I had had the opportunity to speak to employees of the Ministry of Health. There also I gained the impression that people think ahead and work hard to reach sensible middle and long-term solutions. They talked about the construction of wells, about the installation of recreational areas to restore a nature maltreated by the drought, about setting a focus on education and training in order to school the population in food storage and sustainable agriculture. And of course about the hope to be recognized as an independent state in order to be able to act internationally at eye level. Hopefully, several reports run by the ZDF and humedica could contribute successfully to this aim.

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