A foul smell emanates from dark, stagnant floodwaters in many parts of Thailand as evacuation orders continue in Bangkok. Flooding has affected 64 of Thailand’s 77 provinces, caused by 40 percent more rain than average.
By supporting Christian Volunteers Serving in Thailand (CVSI), World Concern has been able to respond quickly, evacuating families and distributing food, medical supplies and survival kits to remote areas – some of which have received no help from government or aid organizations.
Volunteers discovered families who had been unable to leave their homes because those offering boats for evacuation were charging inflated, illegal rates just to take families to the main road.
Grateful flood victims began to recognize the volunteers in their bright orange life vests and inflatable boats, calling them the “Christian boat.”
True to our commitment to serve the unreached and those in greatest need, we helped evacuate and feed isolated families from these areas, including an apartment complex of immigrants who had recently moved to Bangkok to work. Most knew no one and had nowhere to go.
Families were sheltered in local churches. We provided 6,000 hot meals, as well as survival kits containing rice, sweet potatoes, infant formula, basic medicine and other necessities to more than 1,000 people.
Our Disaster Lifeline fund enables us to be able to respond to disasters in areas where we work, quickly and efficiently, reaching people with life-saving assistance.
I have just left Dhobley in Southern Somalia. My travels with World Concern have taken me too many difficult places. I have been to refugee camps in Chad, holding camps after Sri Lanka’s civil war, and South Sudan before independence. Even with all of this experience with poverty and suffering, seeing the people in Dhobley was tragic.
We visited a medical clinic that we partner with and saw three young children laying on mats with IVs, so weak they could not walk. Their mothers were hoping that they would survive. To be honest, I’m not sure whether they will make it or not given their acute diarrhea. It’s devastating to know that beyond these three there are many who didn’t make it to the clinic.
The people in Dhobley broke my heart. It was not just the extreme need. People are hungry, sick and without resources. There was such defeat in the eyes of the people on street. They are not only lacking the basics of life – clean water, food and shelter – they have no sense of security. The week before a battle took place in this town that sent people fleeing again into the bush to survive. Are they safe today? None believe they are. Living day after day in insecurity has taken a toll beyond any I can imagine. There is sorrow upon sorrow.
Yet in the midst of such darkness, there is hope. When we engaged with people on the street and talked, the spark of hope was still there. Hope comes in the form of others caring and reaching out.
World Concern is bringing food and other essential items for survival, but they need so much more. There are people in need of love, joy, hope and peace. God has called us to care for the least of these. I found them in Somalia. I pray we can bring healing beyond survival.
Today, as yesterday, the issue for the people of Southern Somalia is survival, and the World Concern staff is pouring themselves out to keep people alive. My desire is to see us walk together through this immediate need into a time and place in the future where people can live in peace.
World Concern staff members are safe after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley by the militant group al-Shabaab. In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, al-Shabaab attacked the town where World Concern, along with partners Medical Teams International (MTI) and AFREC, have been providing aid to families affected by the famine and insecurity in Somalia.
We’re grateful that no staff members or partners were in Dhobley at the time of the attacks, but our hearts are broken over this deadly attack on a town that is already suffering so much. Initial reports indicate that 44 Somali military members were injured and 30 were killed in the attack. Two civilians were also killed and two others injured, including a young girl. There are reports of seven al-Shabaab members being killed in the fighting.
Dhobley is a place where many families traveling from all over southern Somalia can get food, water and rest on their long journey to the refugee camps in Kenya. Despite daily security issues, World Concern has been able to feed 13,000 people with two-week rations of beans, rice, oil, sugar and salt, and provide emergency supplies such as blankets, water jugs, mosquito nets and more to another 1,300 families.
World Concern and MTI staff will continue to assist in the response just across the border in Liboi, Kenya. As soon as it is safe to return to Dhobley, World Concern will resume activities there, as we’re one of the few international organizations able to work in the area.
Insecurity has been a major challenge for humanitarian organizations to reach people affected by the famine. “We could double or triple our food distribution with better access,” said Deputy Director of Disaster Response Chris Sheach. “Every day we’re not able to get into Dhobley represents 2,500 people who don’t receive help,” he said.
One way World Concern is working around these challenges is by using vouchers, which are redeemed for food and emergency supplies at local merchants. We then reimburse merchants through direct cash transfers. This system supports the local economy, builds relationships with community leaders, and ensures food ends up in the hands of those who need it most.
Please pray for the families affected by the attack this morning and that further violence will not hinder our ability to reach people in desperate need.
When we set out to visit the community of Dhobley, Somalia, it came after a security assessment from several people, and the knowledge that whatever the security may tell us, it’s still a dangerous place to go.
The militant group Al Shabaab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, was pushed farther back into Somalia a few months ago, helping Dhobley maintain some order. Security forces from Kenya and Somalia’s transitional government continue to make gains and reclaim territory. Still, news reports I’ve read indicate that Al Shabaab fighters are not very far outside of the community. And it’s clear that Al Shabaab is not far from the minds of the refugees.
When I talk with families fleeing the famine, I hear one thing again and again. It’s not just hunger that has driven families to leave. It’s the lawlessness that has flourished in the failed state of Somalia. I’ve heard horror stories of the innocent being victimized by evil men in unspeakable ways.
Even if these families had moderate success with their businesses or farming in Somalia, nearly all did it while living in fear. With the painful backdrop of poor security, the famine was the inescapable problem that pushed them over the edge, sending them on an uncertain journey for food and water. In order to affect long-term change, security must improve.
Heading to the nearly unmarked border
On a day we traveled to Somalia to work, we left World Concern’s base for famine response in Dadaab, Kenya. This town is home to the rapidly-growing complex of refugee camps you’ve seen on the news, as well as a large UN compound. It takes about two hours to drive from Dadaab to Dhobley, just across the Somalia border. Like other agencies, we have elected to have a security detail join us on the road.
The road to Somalia has no signs, just tire tracks in deep sand on a twisting road through scrub brush. Before reaching the border, we had to stop in the Kenyan border town of Liboi on our way to Dhobley, to get our passports stamped, knowing that there was no similar immigration checkpoint in Somalia.
The border has two non-descript markers, short unmarked concrete obelisks set along the road, in a section of sand and scrub that looks like any other. But that was our sign to stop. Our Kenyan vehicles could go no farther. Soon, after we called our contacts in Somalia, an ancient small Nissan transport van arrived, and we switched vehicles, from our Kenyan trucks, to the rented Somali van. Inside were Somali men who run a partner agency in Dadaab, and they would be leading us around town.
Gunfire seems normal
Dhobley was filled with livestock searching for a drink, and small shops like I have seen in other more established towns in Kenya. What was unusual was the military presence. Hundreds of young TFG soldiers dressed in green fatigues held old assault rifles and wandered around, on foot and in the back of pick-up trucks.
Every so often, I’d hear gunshots. Who was firing? I’m really not sure. I’d bet, though, that with no real functioning government, many people are armed. The crack of gunshots are common in Dhobley. People are saying, “Hi, how are you doing!” or “I am angry!” or some other message. But what we did not hear was prolonged gunfire to indicate an actual fight. And so, strangely, I stopped flinching when I heard a shot, and it just became ambient noise.
No hospital, but a medical clinic
World Concern is joined in Dhobley with our partners at Medical Teams International, who work under World Concern in the response. One man and a woman are from Uganda, and usually work in that country. They are extremely talented folks with much relevant experience. Because of the crisis, they’ve been called up. Another man is a physician from Oregon who specializes at diagnosing rare diseases, along with a nurse who is an expert in disaster medical care. Both of them have been in about seven missions with MTI.
The MTI team saw patients in a small clinic. The one story building is under construction, and helps the community compensate for the loss of a hospital. Locals say that Al Shabaab commandeered the hospital when it controlled the town, using the building as a base of operations. During the fight to reclaim Dhobley, the building was more or less destroyed.
Searching for working water wells
While the MTI team saw patients, a team from World Concern drove from water source to water source in town to see how the systems were functioning. After evaluating several pumping stations, we see they need work, and form a plan for how to help. With a large population of displaced people, the demand for food and water has increased. We also notice that people are using a watering hole for livestock as their source of drinking water. This is a guaranteed way to spread disease.
We’re also working here to ensure the hungry are fed. By using a voucher system, those in need are able to buy food from local businesses. We find that this is safer than trucking food down a road that is also home to bandits. And by buying from local vendors, we help the economy.
It is a safe bet that Dhobley receives many more refugees in the coming months. The primary road to the Dadaab refugee camps passes right through Dhobley. With continued unrest elsewhere in Somalia, and the growing famine, more families will decide to leave their homes, and search for a new life in Kenya as refugees.
Working for sustainability – with an eye on who’s really hurting
By helping communities with food, water and more, World Concern is working to help keep Somalis in Somalia, if possible, and out of the overburdened camps. And in our work with communities, we’re also helping ensure those who live in these towns on the border can survive the flood of travelers.
It is a complex problem, happening in a dangerous area, and it will get worse before it gets better. It is a difficult logistical and political equation to ensure long-term stability that will allow us to do the long-term transformational work that the community really needs.
What remains consistent, however, is the desperation from families who find themselves caught in the middle. It doesn’t matter that the security is rotten, and that bad people still roam freely here. The fact is that these families – men, women, boys and girls – need the basics of life. They need food and water, and without it, they will die.
Our goal is to be here long-term, to help the communities become more self sufficient, and less vulnerable. We want to see the communities transform. But the reality for now is that we are in a life-or-death crisis.
With those who are supporting us, we are able to make a small difference in this big disaster, making sure that families we touch will make it through this famine alive.
Our team pulled out of Dadaab shortly after breakfast, on the road to Somalia. It’s a dry, dusty road, with thorny bush on either side. The road itself is badly rutted, so weave along the ditch, following two tire tracks in the sand. Occasionally, we jump up on the road and dip down the embankment to the other side, continuing the weaving through acacias, sand flying in little rooster tails behind us.
Following closely is our security escort, a good natured sergeant in the Administration Police, and three kids so green they barely shave. They get sent to the border fresh out of school, to work them in for a few years. Now, they chase behind us through the thorny wasteland.
The only sign of life are the dik-diks, meercats, and the birds. The birds are also a sign of death. The road is littered with cattle carcasses, at least one every kilometer, and the Marabou storks gather around them. I have never seen so many Marabou storks before. They are the undertakers of the animal kingdom, overdressed in their black coats, strutting awkwardly around, and omnipresent at a funeral. As we pull into Liboi, I notice the storks are bigger than the goats, or even a small child. And they are everywhere.
While we take some tea in Liboi, it starts to rain. Irony. Rain in a drought. But this isn’t really rain. I only notice it on my specs. It’s such a fine drizzle, my clothes don’t get wet, and the ground is no less dusty.
We head on, through a few checkpoints, and we are there. It comes as a bit of surprise, really. Our escort actually had to pull us over, so we didn’t cross the line. The Somalia border is signified by a stone. “That tree is Somali,” said our guide, “and this tree is a Kenyan.” As we waited for our vehicle from Somalia, we walked past the stone and looked around.
This was it. I was in Somalia. There were bullets in some of the trees, a battle had been fought here. One of the soldiers handed me a shell. “Your souvenir,” he said.
I returned to Liboi for a few hours, while I waited for the team in Somalia. At the borehole, warthogs jostled with goats for water. They told me even giraffes and gazelles came into town to get water now. “What about the lions?” I asked. There are about 20 out there, was the response, but they haven’t come into town. Later I met a refugee, who had seen a man killed by a lion attack in his travels.
I visited the school. It was Saturday, but the boarding students were still there, sleeping through the heat in their dorms with insufficient mattresses, hanging their laundry to dry from the broken panes of glass in the windows. Three hundred boys aged 12 and up, their parents nomadic, trying to finish primary school. They have 2 toilets, neither has a door. During the week the school swells to 800, and with their pipes broken, they can’t afford the water required for the kids to wash their hands before meals.
In a small hotel, I found 100 refugees sleeping in the carport. They were waiting for evening to continue their journey. My guide told me to take their picture – that they said it was okay. The women covered their faces and looked away. They asked if I had any food. I didn’t – not for 100 people – and I felt like an idiot. The children all have watery diarrhea. I urge them, when they get to the camp, to take all their children to the clinic. “They will help you in Dadaab,” I said. I hope I’m right. I take the pictures, get in the car, and drive off. This is the part I hate.
When I met the team, they seemed a bit stunned. “It’s different over there. The ratio of soldiers to civilians is 4:1. Everyone has a gun.” And yet, the situation is really the same. Not enough food, not enough water, and not enough health care. They visited a hospital with most of the equipment intact, but holes in the wall from mortars and bullets. The roof had been destroyed in parts, and other walls were cracked and falling. An NGO is subsidizing water costs there, so at least the water is not too expensive.
We headed back to Dadaab as the sun began to set. Along the way we met a refugee family and their goats. “We left Kismayu 30 days ago,” they tell us. “People are starving to death there.”
The family of nine sleeps where night finds them, all their belongings on a donkey cart. They lost all their cows, and decided to leave before their goats died too. The woman is pregnant, and the oldest child is about 12. “Many of our people are going to Dadaab. Being in the camp is better than the drought.”
I found two packs of biscuits and a carton of juice in the boot. Our guide, a better man than I, gave them fare for the bus he knew was coming, so the mother and children could ride for 50 kilometers. The red sun slipped below the horizon into night.
World Concern is one of the first NGOs to be able to help in southern Somalia since Al-Shabaab, the militant group that controls the area, lifted a ban on humanitarian aid groups coming in. Learn more about our response and donate at www.worldconcern.org/crisis.
The winds of change are blowing in Wau. After the biggest rain storm of the season washed the streets clean this morning, the skies cleared, and Southern Sudanese got down to very serious business. In a few hours, the 193rd nation in the world will celebrate its independence.
For weeks now, everyone, young and old, has been preparing for this. Students have practiced their dancing and singing, military bands march up and down as they practice their formations, and everyone is cleaning, decorating and putting on their best show. The optimism and energy are electric. The sound of the brand new national anthem, played through loudspeakers all over town so everyone can learn it, is a background to the frenzied last minute preparations.
But the excitement is not the whole story. Today I sat with people displaced from Abyei, homeless and hungry during the greatest day in their nation’s history. An elderly man named John, blind and frail, ran from Abyei town as soldiers burned houses to the ground. His tales of the journey are horrific, including rescuing an orphaned baby on the way.
The people of South Sudan have welcomed his family and offered them free accommodations. But aid agencies are having a difficult time registering the fluid flow of migrants, and basic needs are not being met. Although John hopes for a new future, he is wise enough to know things won’t change at the stroke of midnight.
“The new government can make a difference, but what will happen to the people of Abyei until then?” he wonders. “If the area is secure we will go back, but until then we don’t want to be forgotten.”
World Concern will be celebrating along with the people of the new Republic of South Sudan, and we will walk alongside the hungry, homeless and in need until their lives are stable. To help, visit www.worldconcern.org/feedsudan.
Abouk Dut has a lot to worry about. She is homeless, living under a small plastic tarp and, when I met her, she was standing in line for food rations. When it rains, no one can sleep, as their small shelter floods. The plastic tarp her family uses is more than most have received, and there are thousands that have not yet been registered for food rations.
She is 100 miles from her home in Abyei, with no guarantee that she can go back.
But, when we talked, her face was lit with hope. She rejoices that she escaped Abyei, and that most of her family is with her. “Many people lost their family in the bush, and have never reunited,” she said.
Even more, she is hopeful for the future. In just under two weeks, on July 9, South Sudan will gain independence, and Abouk is excited about the changes to come.
“The people here in the South have welcomed those of us from Abyei. They sympathize with our plight and support us.” Abouk predicts the new country will be a better place to live, with police to protect civilians and reduce crime, more protection for women, and a chance to return home. “The South Sudan government will pay attention to the people of Abyei, and help us go home. We are excited to be a part of this new nation.”
Amidst the stories of loss and suffering coming out of South Sudan, we’re hearing words of hope like this. Providing food and basic of necessities is bringing hope to displaced people there. Though they have left everything behind, and have no idea what’s ahead, many like Abouk are holding onto hope for a better future in the world’s newest nation.
World Concern is working on solutions beyond food, including constructing temporary schools for the more than 4,000 new students in the area. We’re also gathering resources to provide housing and cooking supplies for people like Abouk and her family.
One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to return to disaster areas and see change. Yesterday I visited the Nazon neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I’m usually pretty good at recognizing landmarks and navigating in a place I’ve been before, but a lot has changed in the past three months – and that’s good to see. Countless times I stopped suddenly on our walk to exclaim, “This road was impassable before!” or “Where did that house come from?”
It’s interesting how, when you see the change gradually, like my Haitian colleagues, it seems unremarkable. For me, the difference was a pleasant surprise. Sure, you may hear that “little is being done” and “only 15% of the rubble has been removed,” but I can tell you, in the areas where World Concern works, the difference is huge.
Our walk was interrupted several times to stop and greet people. “This is one of our beneficiaries … this is one of our carpenters … this man is on the neighborhood committee.” I jokingly suggested that one of our community liaison officers should just move to Nazon, as she is more a member of this community than her own. Julie seemed to seriously consider the idea for a minute, before laughing and saying, “Only if I get a World Concern shelter to live in!”
Julie’s work, and that of the other liaison officers, is quite obvious. When I visited Nazon in the past, the community was distrustful of my motives. Yesterday, told me how great the work of our staff was, thanked me for our involvement in the community, and asked how World Concern will be involved in the next phase of reconstruction.
Another difference I noticed is the level of energy. Haitians have endured so much since the earthquake, with annual hurricanes, a deadly cholera outbreak, civil unrest and a disputed election process. Even so, streets that were formerly filled with rubble are now lined with merchants plying their trade, and people involved in the reconstruction process.
I met Serge and Sergio, fraternal twin brothers in their mid-20s. These men were eager to have secure housing before the imminent hurricane season, but the narrow alley to their property was inaccessible to World Concern delivery trucks. Rather than waiting for staff to transport all the building materials by hand, Serge and Sergio donned gloves and hard hats and joined the work team, moving truckloads of sand, gravel and rocks by wheelbarrow load themselves.
This kind of enthusiasm is contagious. All over Nazon, you can see posters youth have created encouraging people to take an active role in rebuilding their own community.
Watching the earthquake and tsunami disaster unfold in northeastern Japan this week has been painful for all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, and aftershocks continue on a daily basis, reminding the Japanese people that this tragedy is far from over.
World Concern, a member of the Global Relief Alliance, is responding by working through alliance partners that were already in place and at work in Japan prior to the disaster. Some may wonder why we’re not loading our staff onto a plane and heading into the disaster zone. Believe me, as a member of our disaster response team, it’s hard for us to “wait this one out,” but it’s important that we do so.
After the Haiti earthquake, we were able to respond immediately because we have worked in that country for 30 years, had staff in place, and were able to make an immediate impact, utilizing resources and donation dollars in the best way possible. But the disaster in Japan is very different on a number of levels.
I have been encouraged by the response being undertaken in Japan. Countless lives have no doubt been spared by the efficiency of their mobilized volunteers, military, and emergency response teams. Rapid assessments, organized distribution lines for rations and water, and shelter provisions reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Heavy equipment has been mobilized, clearing roads and restoring communications and transportation. Japan has very accurate national registries (hence their ability to report the numbers of those who are missing) and has reached out to contact everyone in the affected areas. The Japanese have been a model of disaster response, and we have lessons to learn about how we can improve our own system in North America to match theirs.
Contrast this with Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, where the number of victims will never truly be known due to lack of census records in the affected areas. The needs in these countries overwhelmed the fragile states, and basic necessities were unattainable. They desperately needed international support, simply to get food, water, and basic medical attention. World Concern had offices and programs in these places prior to the disasters and responded directly. We have continued to work – and will continue – in these countries long after they have faded from the headlines.
In Japan, after the immediate search and rescue and medical emergency needs are met, Japan’s disaster response teams will determine their need for additional help. Meanwhile, we are standing by, ready to deploy if needed in the field. Until that time, we will provide technical assistance and support to our partners on the ground, maximizing our team’s expertise and your donations.
Please join us in praying for the victims of this tragedy and their families, for the government of Japan as it coordinates the response, and for Christian partners and the church in Japan, as they work to support the local authorities and care for their neighbors.
The dramatic events unfolding in Japan after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off Japan’s east coast triggered a devastating tsunami are riveting. They also highlight the difference between communities that participate in disaster risk reduction activities (like Japan) and those that have not been prepared (such as Haiti).
No amount of preparation can stop an earthquake or tsunami, but the next few days will show how preparation and risk reduction have saved countless lives, and minimized the long term effects for the Japanese people. In other nations, this tragic event would have had much greater consequences.
We participate in risk reduction on a daily basis: when the radio identifies a forecast of rain, you assess the risk, and choose to reduce it by carrying an umbrella. On a national scale, this is much more complicated. It requires awareness, planning, and willingness to put plans in place. Today, a few low-lying communities in Washington State were evacuated due to the warnings issued by the West Coast and Alaska Warning Center, a part of the US early-warning system.
The effects of this earthquake in Japan are drastically different than the one measuring 7.0 which paralyzed Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. In Haiti, low-quality construction practices, lack of awareness about the risk of earthquakes, and insufficient government capacity to respond created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was also a horrifying tragedy impacting unprepared communities from Indonesia to Somalia.
How World Concern Helps Communities Prepare for Future Disasters
World Concern is currently involved in disaster risk reduction activities in high-risk areas around the world, training local communities to prepare for the next “big one.” With World Concern’s help, communities in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar are identifying risks and developing strategies to mitigate losses during disasters. Community members work together to find solutions, and educate others on how to protect themselves during a disaster.
In Haiti, for example, communities dig and maintain storm drains to counteract flooding during hurricanes. Other areas have installed emergency water facilities, in case their regular sources are contaminated by floodwaters.
After Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 in Myanmar, World Concern supported the establishment of Disaster Management Committees in affected communities, equipping them with disaster response supplies. World Concern also assisted in developing an early warning system, coordinating with the local government, and an implementation of multi-hazard action plans.
World Concern partners and donors are empowering the poorest in high-risk areas to make informed decisions and be proactive in protecting their loved ones and way of life.