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Rural Somalia Begins to Recover From Famine and War

IN this village near the central Somali town of Baidoa, where last year's famine was at its most severe, Musulima Abdullahi Ahmed cares for seven orphans and tends 70 chickens. They are signs of the progress Somalia has made and has yet to make.

A year ago, most Somalis living in rural villages had fled to larger towns, like Baidoa, seeking relief food in the face of massive starvation caused by a civil war between rival clans.

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Today, most of the survivors have returned to their villages and are recovering the means to feed themselves.

But getting enough to eat, and caring for those whose families perished from famine and war, is still a major challenge.

International relief agencies have closed most of the feeding centers throughout the former famine belt in south and central Somalia. With the feeding emergency behind them, these organizations have shifted much of their attention to training health workers and providing tools and seeds for farmers. Some agencies are helping renovate old wells and irrigation canals.

During the famine, people here were asking, ``Is there going to be an end of today?'' says Jane Exneer, who works for the relief organization, CARE, in Baidoa. ``There is a sense of future now.''

A United States airlift of food began to reach Baidoa in August 1992, four months before US marines arrived in the town. By the time the troops arrived, ``4 out of 5 villages were empty,'' says World Vision's Mario Rodriguez. ``Now 4 out of 5 [villages] are full.''

Farmers, however, complain that they still do not have enough resources to produce adequate crops. The August sorghum crop should last until December, and a new crop should come in January. Relief officials say they are still prepared to fill such food gaps on a periodic basis.

That need may be most acute among those displaced by war. Hundreds of thousands perished in the famine, but still more were left displaced by fighting between rival clans. Many Somalis have returned to their villages to find their homes destroyed, and they cannot afford to rebuild them.

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``They don't have animals or crops,'' says Mohammed Hassan, a village elder here, of the displaced. ``They are begging.''

For those who do have crops, there is a new-old threat. Members of the Lisan and Elai sub-clans of the Rahanweyn, the dominant ethnic group in the region, fought each other earlier this month for several days in a rural area near Baidoa. Herdsmen from one group trampled crops of the other, according to clan members. At least two people were killed in the dispute.

In Rowlo, a village south of Baidoa, relief workers from the US-based relief agency World Vision were surprised during a visit on Sept. 3 to find villagers in a stone-throwing fight with people of a nearby village over an alleged rape of a girl by someone in the other village.

``They [the people of Rowlo] have been restored enough that they can fight,'' says Cindy Pettersen, a Canadian health officer working for World Vision in Baidoa.

More than 2,500 of the 3,000 residents of Rowlo perished in Somalia's famine, according to World Vision. Those who straggled into Baidoa last year were fed by the relief agency. Last March, 432 survivors returned to their village, where they received food, seeds, and tools from World Vision.

One of those who fled violence last year near his home village of Dolo, about 20 miles from Awdinle, was Abderahman Derow, an orphan now under the care of Mrs. Ahmed.

``My mother died before the war,'' says 10-year-old Abderahman, as he sits on a ledge outside Ahmed's mud-walled home. ``Later, my father was killed because of his animals,'' apparently by armed robbers. ``We ran away with my brother. I haven't seen my other two brothers.''

Asked why she took in the seven orphans, whom she found sitting by the roadside last year, Ahmed says simply: ``I was a bit better off than they were.''

Police are now stationed in some villages, including Awdinle, but looters still prey on travelers between villages, says Hassan Aden, one of the policemen here. A large metal packing crate with air holes serves as the local jail.

In Baidoa itself, elders want UN financial help to boost the present police force of 80 to the prewar level of 800 and to establish a court system.

French troops patrol the main roads of Baidoa, but residents say the troops ignore the back lanes, where looters are said to operate freely.

``Every night I hear bullets,'' says Somali nurse Mohammed Abdullahi, who lives in Baidoa.

Meanwhile, several schools in Baidoa operated by the Irish relief agency, Concern, are brimming with students. And outdoor markets and small shops are doing a brisk business.

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