July 03, 2012
Normalcy has returned to the Hiran, Bay and Bakool regions after Somali and allied forces cleansed al-Shabaab from the areas in recent months.
Hiran Governor Abdifatah Hassan Afrah said military forces have been pulled from the streets in Beledweyne, and people are now able to go to work without the worry of violence.
Afrah told Sabahi that businessmen have noticed a significant increase in clientele and sales as of late. He said traffic between neighbourhoods has been on the rise, and new cafes and shops have opened up around the city.
He said commercial and educational activities came to a halt under al-Shabaab control, as the group imposed unfair taxes and forced locals to join its ranks.
"Our doors are now open and it is business as usual," said local merchant Nur Dhaqane. "We hope to make up for the losses from the unrest and lack of security we lived under for three years of al-Shabaab's radical rule."
"They called on locals to boycott the imported clothing we sold in our store. Sales stayed low and almost stopped during their control. But today, most people ask for the latest fashions, especially when it comes to women's clothes, accessories and shoes," he told Sabahi.
Somali and Ethiopian forces took over Beledweyne in December 2011 after forcing the rebels out of Matabaan, Mahaas and the surrounding villages. In June, 100 Djiboutian soldiers reached Beledweyne, joining African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces.
Al-Shabaab still occupies other areas of Hiran, such as the towns of Buulobarde, Jalalaqsi and Buqda.
Hashi Malin, a former private school administrator in Beledweyne, said students have gone back to school after many had previously fled the city, fearing being forced to fight for al-Shabaab.
"The students' reunion was marked with sadness, as they lost loved ones who died because of wars and exchange of fire," he said. "There were also feelings of happiness due to meeting one another after a long period of time. The suffering left in them is a collective memory that cannot be erased from their minds."
Student Ali Mohammed Wasighi said, "I returned to my school, Mujama Um al-Qura in Beledweyne, four months ago with other schoolmates to resume my studies. My life has gone back to normal, after much hardship from exhausting wars, and others like me who had to bear arms and enter the battlefield. We had no one to watch over us or take care of us. Some were killed, while others were injured, and their future remains unclear."
Isaac Yarow Mohammed, a tribal elder in Hudur in the Bakool region, said the town is slowly coming back to life after Somali and Ethopian forces ended al-Shabaab's three-year control over the area.
"We are in dire need of jobs and we need to close the chapter of war," he told Sabahi. "We need to move forward in reconstruction and we would like the transitional government to fund more development projects to free youth from unemployment and terrorism, while reviving the economy."
For the first time in three years, a clinic run by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has opened in the city, specialising in tests and prescribing medication.
Dr. Omar Salah, WHO co-ordinator for urgent relief, told Sabahi the centre receives between 100 and 150 patients daily. Over the past two months, more than 34,000 prescriptions have been given out to patients, he said.
Hudur town commissioner Mohamed Mualim said the WHO has supplied free medical labs to help prescribe medicine and treatment.
Mualim called on more Somali and international agencies to return to help improve the humanitarian situation. He told Sabahi that despite there being some humanitarian relief under way in Bakool region, many women and children have been weakened by hunger, sickness and malnutrition.
Baidoa, the capital of Bay region, was captured by joint Somali and Ethiopian forces in February. In April, AMISOM dispatched 100 soldiers to Baidoa, its first deployment outside of Mogadishu. At Baidoa's airport, helicopters are arriving from Mogadishu carrying AMISOM officers, Somali officials, and delegates from international health and relief organisations.
The local hospital, however, suffers from a lack of basic medical supplies, according to local leaders.
Amin Osman, a member of the Baidoa residential committee that runs the hospital, said a shortage of medicine has led to postponing operations for several injured and wounded patients. He said there are insufficient supplies of anaesthetic drugs and a lack of medical labs to test and store blood.
Osman told Sabahi that the hospital has only one old ambulance that lacks first-aid equipment.
Lawmaker Fawzia Mohamed Sheikh said patients visiting the central hospital of Baidoa cannot find the medication to treat them. There is also a shortage of funding and improper sewage infrastructure, she said, which creates a health hazard for patients.
She called on the transitional government and international organisations to support the Baidoa hospital.
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