Living in Fragile Contexts-A Displaced Childhood


Living in Fragile Contexts-A Displaced Childhood

According to a report from the United Nation, the number of conflicts worldwide – more than 100 – is at its highest level since World War II. In early 2023, that is, even before the severe escalations of several conflicts this past year, the UN reported that 2 billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – live in places affected by conflict. What is more alarming is that most conflicts are likely to last for years, leading to chronic instability, while making it difficult for the development of their economy and infrastructure. When coupled with challenges due to natural disasters or climate change, affected families will continue to be displaced, with no hope of return to their homeland or rebuilding their lives. Meanwhile, children will be learning and developing in an environment exposed to violence and instability, which have a negative impact on them.

In contrast to people living in poverty and hunger, these people who reside in fragile contexts due to political or other ongoing crises are facing more complicated lives. As the core social mechanisms of the place where they live are failing, it is difficult to provide an acceptable living environment and assistance for the children and families. In order to survive, they are forced to confront more complex and obscure difficulties than those who are living in poverty and hunger, and Somalia is one of these "fragile contexts".

What are “Fragile Contexts”?

Fragile contexts are volatile and where children suffer extreme levels of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. Political and social pressures have made these places vulnerable to conflict and have fractured or weakened the institutions that should protect children, such as health or education services.

Somalia is located on the east coast of Africa, next to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. As it is close to the Gulf of Aden where the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea meet, it has always provided an essential route for maritime trade. Since around 2010, the area became world famous for its rampant piracy. Nonetheless, very few people realise this is an example of a fragile context. As the civil war in Somalia has been going on for decades, the political and social environments are unstable, and even maritime order cannot be properly maintained. As a result, many foreign ships have come to fish or dump waste illegally, affecting the livelihoods of local fishermen. To survive, former fishermen are turned into pirates. Families in a fragile context often cannot rely on the core social mechanisms and laws to live. Some of them choose to leave their homes for alternative livelihoods; others choose to protect their homes at all costs. All of these factors have further destabilised the environment, making the people more vulnerable.

Why are they Fragile?

Somalia has become a fragile context, and the reasons date back to the last century. Like most areas in Africa, Somalia was colonised for decades. The Somaliland region, formerly known as British Somalia, became independent on 26 June, 1960. Five days later (1 July), the southern region under the Italian mandate also became independent, and on that same day, the southern and northern regions merged and formed the United Republic of Somalia. In 1969, Mohamed Siad Barre, the commander of the Somali National Army, came to power in a coup and established the Somali Democratic Republic. In January 1991, the Barre regime was overthrown, and Somalia has since fallen into prolonged civil war and instability. In May of the same year, the Somaliland region located in northern Somalia unilaterally declared "independence" and established the "Republic of Somaliland" with Hargeisa as its capital. However, to date, it is still not recognised by the international community.

Development in Somalia has stagnated due to long-term political instability, and the level of poverty is very high. Based on the projected GDP growth per capita, the poverty rate has increased from 71% in 2017 to 73% in 2023. The government is also unable to provide and maintain basic infrastructure and services, including medical care and human security. In addition, despite having the longest coastline in Africa, Somalia is very dry, especially in the inland area. Many local tribes make a living by raising livestock, mainly goats, sheep, camels and cattle. Conflicts often occur over the use of precious resources.

Traditionally, Somalia has two rainy seasons in a year, including a heavy rainy season from the end of March to early June, and a light rainy season from October to November. However, weather forecasts indicate that rainfall during last year's heavy rainy season has remained inadequate. The United Nations has stated that more than half of Somalia's population will need humanitarian assistance. Many aid agencies, including World Vision, have also warned that "an unprecedented humanitarian disaster is unfolding”.

In recent years, natural disasters have occurred more frequently in Somalia as climate change intensifies. For example, by the end of 2022 to the beginning of 2023, Baidoa was on the verge of famine due to drought. Drought had already killed a total of 43,000 people in Somalia in 2022, half of whom were children under the age of 5. At the end of 2023, some areas of Somalia suffered extreme floods. In addition to droughts and floods, Somalia is also threatened by locust plagues from time to time. In 2020, a state of emergency was declared due to a serious locust plague. These natural disasters also caused a large number of people to flee their homes in order to survive. Statistics show that as of the beginning of this year, more than 2.7 million Somalis have been displaced due to hunger or conflict and are forced to live in temporary accommodation or internal displacement camps, including more than 570,000 people in Somaliland.

There are over 2,000 internal displacement camps in Somalia, including more than 180 in Somaliland. Many families have to live in the camps for several years or even longer. They have left their hometowns and lost their livelihoods. Since the camps are often located in remote locations and are formed by displaced people, they lack community infrastructure and suitable shelter, as well as adequate food, clean water and electricity, leaving them without daily necessities and facing various dangerous situations. This is especially the case for women and children. At the same time, there are often no schools or medical services near the camps, depriving children of their opportunities to receive education and grow up in good health. Displaced people also have difficulty finding jobs and earning income to support themselves and their families. Although the local government has the responsibility to protect and assist displaced families, no specific and long-term measures are being implemented, and many people must rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. However, relief funds are often in short supply, leaving them in a fragile situation and unable to live through the hard times on their own.

Tents in the displacement camps are often built by the families.

Most tents are constructed from collected materials such as plastic bags, rag, metal sheets and branches. They are extremely hot to stay in during daytime, but can be freezing cold at night, making children vulnerable to diseases.

Simple tents pose threats to the safety of women and children. There is no electricity and water supply, while hygiene conditions are poor.

Somaliland, located in the north of Somalia, declared "independence" in May 1991, but it is still not recognised by the international community.

Remember Children in Fragile Contexts

World Vision has been operating in different parts of Somalia (including Somaliland) since 1993. Our work focuses on food security, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, livelihood improvement, child protection, education and combating climate change. In 2022, our work has covered over 2 million people, more than half of whom are children.

Given the unpredictable and unstable circumstances in fragile contexts, World Vision has developed a transformational approach called the Fragile Context Programme Approach (FCPA). It is specifically designed to allow us to adapt and manage risk more effectively in these places while being context-sensitive. FCPA is a coherent approach, which meets immediate survival needs (humanitarian interventions) and longer-term needs (development interventions) while addressing the systemic root causes and drivers of conflict and vulnerability (peacebuilding interventions).

FCPA designs are based on careful context analysis and context monitoring. This analysis informs any necessary adaptations to programming or operations by World Vision or our partners. The approach anticipates changes in context and adapts quickly to respond.

Flexible programming adjusts between three categories of pre-populated programming options likely to be relevant in the context. The options are called “dials” -- Survive, Adapt and Thrive -- and the mix of activities is adjusted in response to different contexts, large or small. This pattern of working encourages flexibility when responding to both anticipated and unanticipated events and changes in the environment, because empowered programme staff, partners and communities can make decisions and adjust activities and budgets as required when risks and opportunities change. The adaptations are supported by agile organisational systems and processes (including security awareness), which allow continuous, safe and effective operations to support children and families in fragile contexts.

Although we have developed these approaches to address the needs of the people in fragile contexts, a stable source of funds for relief operation is essential to help vulnerable children quickly recover from lives and build a future. Globally, there are 62.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs), a lot of them are living in fragile contexts. By 2030, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s poorest will be living in fragile and conflict-affected places. Children in these places are struggling to survive as they are trapped in extreme poverty, lack protection and basic standards of living, and may even have to cope with the losses of their loved ones, stability and education opportunities.

It is hard for us to completely comprehend or change the current conditions in fragile contexts, however, we can spend time learning about the situations and needs of these vulnerable children and families, so that people in need will not be forgotten.
“All the time when I go to sleep I worry about where to get food for my children and where to get a job to avoid being in need. I really worry about it a lot. I don’t believe that I will get the same life that I had before… Not even near it.”

Let’s Let Go of Our Home

Sometimes Baruaco asks, “Where is the place we came from before we moved?” But we persuade her that we have now moved here and should forget about the previous place,” says Asha, a single parent and mother of little Baruaco.

Five-year-old Baruaco arrived just five months ago to a camp for drought-displaced people in Somaliland. She has never lived surrounded by so many people and in such a temporary shelter.

“I moved from many kilometers away,” explains Asha as little Baruaco shyly burrows her face in her mother’s long headscarf. Asha lives in a borrowed shelter inside the camp.

“I had around forty animals that had all died due to the drought. Besides that loss of livestock, we also faced having no water for so many, many days that I can’t count anymore,” explains Asha, who thinks life in the camp is at least somehow better compared to her dire circumstances just five months ago. “Life here is not too bad. I get water, I get food to eat. And after I lost my animals I came here to survive.”

Buruaco misses her siblings, the ones that can’t live with the family anymore, but her mother comforts her that it’s for the best. “Since my pockets are empty I’m not able to get the food the children want and the life they want. This forced me to separate my eight children and take four to my family and relatives to cover all the meals that I currently can’t cover,” says Asha.

The previously nomadic family must now get used to life in one of the many camps for people displaced by the drought hitting Somaliland. Children, like Buruaco, must cope with the abrupt changes to their lives and, at a very young age, learn to let go of the home they were comfortable in, the routine they were used to, and the life they knew.

A routine that Buruaco and Asha now have, is to ask around for food. “Sometimes our neighbours can’t afford to give us food three times a day, but they often give us one meal… All the time when I go to sleep I worry about where to get food for my children and where to get a job to avoid being in need. I really worry about it a lot. I don’t believe that I will get the same life that I had before… Not even near it. This is one of the main things that makes me worry at night,” explains Asha.

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