WFP's logistics unit has been working on rehabilitating Mogadishu Port for two years. The port was severely damaged by the 2004 tsunami and by years of fighting and neglect. The repairs involve dredging the channels, salvaging sunken vessels and rebuilding various port structures.
It had been some time since the logistics team overseeing the operation had the opportunity to visit the project site. In order to properly assess the work being done by the salvage teams and other contractors the logistics team in Nairobi requested permission to visit the port and witness the progress first hand. While a visit to most project sites involves jumping in a vehicle and driving a few kilometers, a visit to Mogadishu Port is anything but easy.
For years war has ravaged Somalia and in particular the capital city of Mogadishu. Since 2006 several WFP staff members have been killed while attempting to do their jobs and as a result the country team was relocated to Nairobi and strict protocols now govern all staff travel to Somalia.
In order for the WFP team to visit Mogadishu Port it had to first obtain permission from the UN's Under Secretary General in New York. Once permission was granted the team had to then wait for the arrival of WFP Security team members who would escort them on their trip. A UN Humanitarian Air Service flight chartered specifically for the visit also had to be arranged.
Next, the entire trip then had to be coordinated with the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers who are currently operating on the ground in Somalia. Without an escort by the protective detail the mission would not have been possible due to sporadic fighting on the ground. Finally, all members of the expedition were required to have passed 5 days of rigorous training identical to that which staff members visiting Baghdad must endure.
The flight touched down early on a November morning at the lightly used airport on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The team was immediately moved into armored personnel carriers and issued helmets and body armor which they were required to wear at all times. While expecting an attack en route to the airport none materialized and the team arrived 12 minutes later inside the walls of Mogadishu Port. Shortly before noon the team had its first glimpse of the bustling port.
In addition to the installation of two new generators, dock bumpers and navigation aids the critical task of dredging the port basin was well underway. Already, the dredging team has removed some 6000 cubic meters of silt from the sea floor. Unfortunately, even the they were not immune from being targeted by gunfire. In the image below you can see where one bullet entered through the ship's cabin window while several others raked the side of the vessel. It was later determined that the gunfire was accidental.
Several hours after arriving and observing the activity that is transforming the once battered port into the jewel of WFP operations in Somalia, the team boarded the armored personnel carriers and made their way back to the AMISOM base near the airport. Not long after that the team touched down at the airport in Nairobi. Total time on the ground in Somalia was about 4 hours.
It is incredible that even in such an austere environment the logistics team in Nairobi is able to maintain operations and show measurable progress. It is a testament to their abilities and those of the Somali contractors currently working on the ground and under fire. Once completed the port stands to serve as a source of stability for the beleaguered nation and a conduit for relief items and international trade. WFP doesn't just deliver food, it rebuilds nations.
Special thanks to Michael Nuboer and the entire WFP Somalia country team!