YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – The head of Caritas Somalia is calling on the international community not to forget the Horn of Africa country as other crises divert the world’s attention.

“I believe it is urgent not to forget the Somali people,” María José Alexander told Crux in an e-mail interview.

“We should advocate [our] home governments about humanitarian aid allocations and help the Somali government and institutions to become stronger. Somalia needs to become stronger and stop depending so much on international aid,” she said.

She told Crux the situation in Somalia has been “fragile” since the fall of President Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991, which led to collapse of all government institutions and the rise of competing militias in the country.

“The country has been facing civil war, calamity, and difficulties to solve ordinary state problems such as the provision of personal security, proper education, and food security. Added to this, extraordinary issues related to environmental matters and terrorism have now been a constant in the country,” Alexander said.

Although the situation is more stable in the northern part of the country, the risk of famine has continued to threaten several parts of Somalia – a situation made worse by the fact that “many parts are controlled by Al-Shabaab and now in Puntland [in the north of the country] there is also presence of elements affiliated to ISIS.”

Al-Shabaab – “The Youth” in Arabic – is an Islamic jihadist organization which once controlled the capital Mogadishu, and still exerts influence over large parts of the country. In 2012, the organization pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda.

At the end of 2017, the United Nations said some 6.2 million people were in need of humanitarian and protection assistance and more than half that number required urgent life-saving assistance.

The world body also said 2017 saw the displacement of a further one million Somalis, taking the total across the country to more than two million.

Since that time, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has fallen to 5.4 million, but Alexander said that is still a staggeringly high number.

“Out of the 5.4 million people, 2.7 million are still in crisis and emergency and the other 2.7 in stress. In this sense, the number of people in the stress phase has reduced but not the number of people in crisis and emergency.”

In all this, the government has remained too powerless to act.

“If a government is unable to provide security, then there will never be a proper economic or social development. The humanitarian efforts are important, but we will never solve this crisis by ourselves: We need political will. Also, the on-going war between terrorist groups and the coalition led by the U.S. has caused deaths of civilians and terror among the society,” Alexander said.

She said Caritas has been mainly working with the country’s over 2 million internally displaced persons.

“[Caritas] opened a small office in Hargeisa, Somaliland, to provide both, education support to poor children, and food and nutritional assistance to drought affected people,” Alexander said.

Somaliland is the northernmost portion of Somalia which is self-governing. Unlike the rest of Somalia, which was previously Italian-ruled, Somaliland was ruled by the British in the colonial era.

It declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Barre regime, but it remains unrecognized by the international community. Despite its quasi-legal status, it is the most stable and safest part of Somalia.

Alexander said from this base, Caritas was carrying out projects such as offering emergency assistance for the drought and conflict-related emergencies, like the Oct. 14 bombing attack on Mogadishu by Al-Shabaab.

“We also have an education project for selected children from two IDP camps in Hargeisa, where we pay for their education and logistic support to get them to school,” she said.

“Furthermore, in the same area, we provide medical assistance for poor people in Daami that cannot afford to go to the hospital or pay for the treatment. Then, together with a local partner, BREC, we have a school in Baidoa for girls and boys living in Aboore IDP camp. And finally, a fishing school managed by Perigeo NGO in Puntland,” she explained.

On March 6, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) convened an event in London to draw urgent attention to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the need for a swift and substantial response.

“The importance of further strengthening links between relief, recovery and development efforts was highlighted as vital to building Somalia’s resilience to extreme shocks and breaking the link between drought and humanitarian crisis in Somalia,” said a report from the OCHA.

They also agreed on the need to rebuild Somalia’s broken institutions by creating “stronger partnerships between international organizations and national NGOs,” crucial to developing better aid delivery.

Alexander said the troubles in Somalia are enough to break even the most committed of those involved in humanitarian aid, but what keeps her going is her faith in God.

“One must remember how faithful the Lord is, and how great his love is,” she said.