Millennium Development campaign kicks off in Somalia

17 Sep 2009

On 12 August, a jubilant mood took over the Somali  towns of Garowe and Hargeisa as groups of young people marched along the streets in celebration of International Youth Day. They held aloft banners bearing messages from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as loudspeakers everywhere excitedly announced community football matches later in the day. The events, organized by UNDP along with the UN Population Fund, mark the beginning of a sustained advocacy campaign promoting the MDGs and poverty reduction in Somalia. 

The day and its mood came as a rare glimmer of hope and renewal in a time of great conflict in Somalia. Fighting between government forces and militants led the President to declare a state of emergency in June and the country is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in almost two decades. Such persistent insecurity, coupled with natural disasters like floods and droughts, have contributed to the country’s stunted development and economic growth.  As a result, Somalia faces significant challenges to achieving any or all of the MDGs. One in five children is acutely malnourished, and a rising tide of refugees is pushing already vulnerable populations over the brink. 

“Somalia is a strife-torn country, with extremely low literacy rates, and minimal awareness of the MDGs at all levels,” said Sriram Pande, a UNDP Senior Economist and Head of the Human Development and Economics Programmme in Somalia. As a result, “the MDGs assume an even greater significance to the vast majority of poor and marginalized Somalis.”

By 9 a.m. that day, groups of young people had started heading down the dusty roads for the local stadium that would host the campaign’s first football match. Banners, t-shirts and baseball caps sprinkled throughout the stadium and its audience of all ages displayed MDG goals and messages like “Act Now” and “Kick poverty and hunger out of Somalia.”

The advocacy campaign is making a concerted effort to reach Somalis – especially young people, who make up a significant part of the population – through relevant means of communication, including radio programmes, comic strips for the young and illiterate, billboards and a series of newspaper articles. The goal is to not only educate Somalis about what the MDGs are, but also how they are relevant to the average citizen and ways to attain them.

If Somalia is to turn a corner, it is crucial that its citizens “understand what their fundamental human rights are, and to hold state and development partners accountable in protecting those rights,” Pande added.