Visit from Manuel Bessler, Head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SHA)
The Head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid in the Horn of Africa
In early January 2012, Ambassador Manuel Bessler, the newly appointed Director of the Humanitarian Aid Department of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) was on a visit to Kenya and Somalia. Bessler, who is also deputy head of SDC, met with beneficiaries, partner organisations, diplomats, government representatives and SDC members and discussed the crisis in the Horn of Africa.
|Ambassador Manuel Bessler listening to locals in Mogadishu |
Photo Gallery: Impressions from the Mission
Bessler’s main goal was to get a close-up picture from the reality on the ground and to strengthen Swiss Humanitarian Aid in the Horn of Africa. Together with partner organisations Bessler also discussed strategies for further humanitarian interventions in the crisis-torn region.
“I am eager to see with my own eyes what the needs are in the Horn of Africa and get a grip on what kinds of solutions to the humanitarian crises are feasible and make sense without creating long lasting dependencies”, Bessler said when landing in Nairobi.
First stop on his mission was Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, which is the epicentre of a seemingly endless civil war. Since more than two decades the city and with it the entire country is terrorised by competing war lords and until recently by Al-Shabaab militias, who are linked to the al-Qaeda terror network.
In the summer 2011 Mogadishu came under the control of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The civil administration is handled at least partly by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The Swiss Humanitarian Aid representative met with staff of the UN, delegates of the TFG, the Organisation of Islamic Conferences and with members of local and international NGOs. He was accompanied by Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Giacomo Solari, regional Regional Director Horn of Africa and by Anna Zingg, interim head of the Horn of Africa desk in Switzerland.
During a visit to one of the numerous camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP) Bessler witnessed the desperate living conditions suffered by millions of Somalis.
|Children in front of an IDP camp in Mogadishu |
„Not only security is of great concern to the displaced populations. There is a lack of almost everything. The people need decent housing, clean drinking water, food, education, health care and sanitation facilities. A general improvement in their living conditions is necessary”, Bessler commented after his visit to the decrepit and dirty looking camp.
He said Switzerland will continue its humanitarian engagement in Somalia and the Horn of Africa will remain in the focus of Swiss Humanitarian Aid. In 2011, Switzerland spent a total of 38 million Swiss Francs for humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. Roughly half of this was spent on aid in Somalia.
In August 2011, at the peak of the crisis, Micheline Calmy Rey, then President of the Swiss Federation and Swiss Foreign Minister, visited the camps for Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya. Her trip was followed by a decision of the Swiss Federal Council to grant a special credit of 20 million Swiss Francs to react to the crisis in the Horn. This came on top of the regular budget of 18.5 million Swiss Francs allocated for humanitarian aid in the four Horn countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.
4.4 million Swiss Francs were donated to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), 3.9 Million went to the World Food Programme (WFP), and 2.5 million to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) got 5.75 million. Substantial contributions were also provided to Swiss and international Non Government Organisations (NGO) that are well established in the Horn and long standing partners of Swiss Humanitarian Aid, such as Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Action Contre La Faim (ACF). UNHCR as well as the NGO Horn Relief were supported with the provision of professionals from the corps of experts of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit. Acknowledging the importance of humanitarian coordination and rapid response Switzerland donated 3.3 million Francs to the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF). The CHF is a money pot which is administered by OCHA, the coordinating body of the UN. In times of crises the CHF is able to locally disperse money quickly and flexibly to aid organisations.
For Bessler who was head of OCHA in Pakistan, the CHF is a very important tool for efficient humanitarian aid: "Coordination and the ability to react rapidly are absolutely essential for effective humanitarian aid in order to avoid duplications and to make sure that no needy person is left behind”, Bessler said, referring to the very chaotic and fragile situation in Somalia and the many different actors and millions of displaced people.
Mr Bessler giving an interview in Merti, Kenya
In Mogadishu and neighbouring Afgoye District alone more than 400'000 IDPs are cramped together. In total Somalia counts at least 1.5 million internally displaced of which the majority barely survive in the Al-Shabaab controlled South. On top of this come 520'000 Somali refugees in Kenya and 184'000 in Ethiopia.
Bessler’s visit to Mogadishu was accompanied by massive security arrangements. On average AMISOM troops daily neutralize six bombs in the capital. Only recently Al-Shabaab began the use of suicide bombers in the capital. Just a day after Bessler’s visit, two hand grenades exploded in the UN compound where he had talks.
|Mr Bessler meets the SDC Horn of Africa team in Nairobi |
In October 2011 Kenyan troops invaded Southern Somalia in order to create a buffer zone against Al-Shabaab. After the incursion the already dire security situation also deteriorated in the camps for Somali refugees in Kenya. Explosions of hand grenades and road side bombs are now a frequent danger along the roads between the UN compound and the four camps in Dadaab. This forced the UNHCR to reduce humanitarian aid to life saving activities: food, water and medical care.
All Swiss direct interventions in and around the Dadaab refugee camps had to be put on hold until further notice due to security concerns.
In Somalia’s Al-Shabaab controlled South aid operations can only be managed by remote control because of the dangerous situation. This carries risks but cannot be avoided if needy people are to be helped who cannot be reached otherwise.
Security, protection and support for the populations in the camps as well as plans for future interventions topped the agenda during Bessler’s discussions in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, where he met with other donor representatives, UN organisations and aid agencies that receive support from Switzerland.
The consultations also revealed that not everyone suffers from the war and that quite a number of people benefit from it economically and politically. Some of them occupy high positions and are not interested to change the status quo.
“We build on the experience of our long standing partners in this complex and chaotic situation”, Bessler said, “their contacts and expertise in the Horn of Africa help us to achieve results and assist us in reducing the suffering of the affected populations”.
Bessler wants to continue SDC’s cooperation with its proven partners and intends to help the suffering populations together with other donors also on a political level. „Our assistance should not be restricted to humanitarian fire fighting. It should provide suffering populations with long term perspectives and a decent life in dignity.”