Somali: 'I was hit by a bullet as I left my house'

The number of war-injured civilians treated in Mogadishu's hospitals has doubled this year. Mary Braid reports

eyond the Medina Hospital compound, the once beautiful coastal Somali capital of Mogadishu is reduced to ruin and rubble. After 16 years of civil war and a recent escalation in violence, a certain hopelessness understandably hovers.

But inside Medina's operating theatres, the surgeons battle on to save wounded civilians caught up in what the UN recently acknowledged as the "worst crisis in Africa".

On a continent that includes Darfur and Congo, Somalia would really have to go some to earn that tag. And, sadly, it probably deserves the distinction. Carved up by the European powers during the late 19th century scramble for Africa, Somalia's suffering has been a constant. Its people languished under brutal Marxist dictatorship during the Cold War only to find themselves at the mercy of competing warlords when the civil war erupted in 1991.

Supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Medina Hospital, in the south of Mogadishu, and Keysaney Hospital, in the north, have treated hundreds of adults and children in the past month, shot in crossfire and maimed by shells and mines.

Civil war had already claimed a terrible social price but the past year, in which an unpopular transitional Somali government has been propped up by troops from neighbouring Ethiopia, has seen the numbers of war-injured civilians treated in the two hospitals more than double to 4,269, up to the end of October 2007. One third of the injured are women and children. The whole of 2006, by contrast, saw 2,076 cases.

Last month , hundreds died and more than 170,000 fled the fighting in Mogadishu between Ethiopian troops and Islamists, as well as other Somalis resisting both the transitional government and the presence of foreign troops. Another 330,000 people fled the capital earlier this year.

From his hospital bed at Medina, Dahir Negie Ga'al, describes an incident two days before, amid the endless indiscriminate shelling, street fighting and house-to-house raids, in which he was shot and his brother killed.

"I was hit by a bullet as I was leaving my house," he says. "It was fired by Ethiopian troops. My brother was killed."

Ga'al is both heartbroken and worried. His brother's eight children now become his responsibility and he has a family of his own that he is already struggling to support. "I am not working; my brother was the breadwinner. I'm very tired and it's getting worse, deteriorating day after day.

"There is no security in Mogadishu. There is crisis everywhere. People are fleeing and getting wounded. Everyone is just running away. All my family have been displaced one by one since the crisis began."

In fact, hundreds of thousands of refugees are living under trees just 30 km from Mogadishu another huge concern for the ICRC. The complete collapse of the country has led to anguished pleas from outside observers for international action and a political solution to end the suffering of ordinary Somalis.

That suffering is undoubtedly great. At Keysaney Hospital, supported by the Somali Red Crescent as well as the ICRC, mini bus driver Abdi Nagib, 25, describes the frantic effort he made to save the life of his wounded friend Salad Mohammed Hassan.

"We were crossing the road when my friend was shot," says Nagib. "We rushed to the side of the road but the firing meant we could not get back to him. When he finally managed to crawl to us, we had to push him in a wheelbarrow we found lying around."

The wheelbarrow could not be pushed all the way to Keysaney. It was simply too far away. The injured man's life was eventually saved by a passing driver, who Nagib flagged down and persuaded to take him to hospital.

According to Dr Mohamed Yussuf Hassan, surgeon at Medina, time is crucial for the war wounded. The hard reality is that when someone is injured some distance from Medina or Keysaney, fierce and unpredictable street fighting, and the complete breakdown of infrastructure in battered Mogadishu, can make it impossible to reach an operating theatre in time.

"Most of the time, we manage to save them when they get here in time," says Hassan. "But when people get wounded far away and have to wait many hours because of clashes on the streets then the case becomes complicated and the wound very often gets infected."

The wonder is perhaps that Mogadishu's surgeons do not leave their country as many of their countrymen have and look for a safer and easier life elsewhere.

Hassan admits that his staff have struggled to cope with the rise in wounded civilians in recent weeks. "It has been hectic," he says. "The work was overwhelming in a situation where everyone was so tired and we didn't have the possibility of replacing personnel because we have very few staff."

Nonetheless, he is matter-of-fact about the heroic effort he and his medical team are putting in. "This is our job, to save lives," he says simply.

At Keysaney hospital, surgeon Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed says Somalia has lost many doctors in the years of conflict. Some fled the fighting, others were killed. The capacity of his hospital is 65 patients but at times it treats 300.

"In the last 15 years we have saved many lives and we are ready to continue," he says. "I'm really happy to stay here and help my people as well as the staff of the hospital."

What does he wish for? A new operating theatre and repairs to the wards and ventilation. But above all else he wishes for an end to war.

"I wish peace for my country because everyone is very tired of treating all these patients with gunshot wounds," he says. "We would just like peace."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz