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In a country that has struggled so much with drought it's important communities have safe access to clean water.

Jess Lees

The United Nations recently predicted that over 128 million people across the world require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2018. Whether it be due to conflict, natural disasters or protracted crises like drought and famine. Of that 128 million, those who will be most adversely affected, are women and girls.

In conflicts the majority of civilian casualties are women and children, and gender based sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war.

Natural disasters often kill many more women than men. Women suffer more during times of crises due to already existing inequalities meaning that they are more likely to experience poverty, have less access to food and clean water, shelter, education, income, land, healthcare and in some instances basic human rights.

It is estimated that up to 80 percent of all displaced persons across the world are women and children.

The statistics are grim but while the problems women and girls face are enormous and can seem at times to be intractable, it is women and girls who hold the solutions, and nowhere was this more evident to me than in Somaliland.

Hibo Ismacil Ahmed, 6, and her family wait in line for medical treatment at an SRCS mobile health clinic in Har-Adad village. The village consists of 245 households. The mobile health clinic comes once a month to provide vaccinations, supplements for malnourished children and maternal health care. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

I first visited Somaliland; a self-declared independent state in the north-eastern region of war-torn Somalia around a year ago when the world’s gaze was momentarily fixed on East Africa after famine was declared in South Sudan, and parts of Northern Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia were teetering on the brink. I was there as part of the Red Cross response to the ongoing drought and food crisis that has ravaged large swathes of the continent.

At that time some 25 million people were facing starvation and disease, today that number is down to 15.2 million, due in part to a huge humanitarian intervention that managed to prevent large-scale famine from being declared.

Having just come back from Somaliland for the second time, I am reminded of the incredible women I met. Women who are not only doing their best to survive the harsh conditions they are facing after four consecutive years of failed rains, but are also going above and beyond to help their families and broader communities.

Women like Hamdella. At 22 years old, she works as a nutritional nurse for the Somaliland Red Crescent Mobile Health Clinics. These life-saving operations - their simplicity, yet their efficiency never cease to amaze me.

Staffed with a doctor, a midwife and a nurse, they pile into their 4WD with their medications and equipment and tear across the parched earth. They immunise children, screen and treat them for malnutrition, provide medicine for the sick and care for pregnant and lactating women who would otherwise have no access to healthcare services.

“People are very happy when they see us because they don’t have health facilities, I am very excited about working here and I think Red Crescent helps people in health, which is very important” Hamdella tells me.

22 year old nutritional nurse Hamdella distributing vital medicines from the back of a mobile health clinic. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

Another incredible woman that sticks out in my mind is Amran Hassan, as the Disaster Response Manager for Somaliland Red Crescent she has seen it all. Amran oversees the many life-saving programs here. From restoring water facilities so people have access to clean water, to making sure the most isolated and vulnerable have access to medical care, to overseeing distributions of emergency household items such as tarpaulins to provide a safe roof overhead, and sanitary supplies so women and girls can maintain their dignity.

“These programs give people hope. The suffering of my people due to natural disasters makes me  feel that I need to contribute to their wellbeing. I am privileged to have the skills and the knowledge to make someone’s life better” says Amran.

SRCS worker Amran Muhamud Hassan, 31 years old talks to villagers about Red Cross and Red Crescent work. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

And the future of the response looks bright too. When I met Habiq, a 20 year old volunteer at a Red Crescent run static health clinic she seemed at first quite shy and introverted, but as we talked she told me of her dreams of becoming a midwife.

Hibaq Ali ( right ) with friend Deqa Ali Ahmed. Hibaq Ali has been volunteering at the SRCS run Alaybaday Village Clinic for one year. At 20 years old she knows she wants to become a midwife and work for SRCS. Her passion is helping mothers and babies. Her duties at the clinic include assisting with maternal healthcare, helping the elderly and cleaning. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

“It is something within me that loves to be someone that helps people. I know that our people need a lot of help in terms of delivery and I saw that there is a lot of need in that and I want to be part of that support” says Habiq. In a country where one out of seven children will die before they are five years old and one in 12 women will die due to pregnancy related causes, that support cannot come soon enough.

There are countless Hamdella’s, Amran’s and Habiq’s throughout Somaliland and indeed the world. Women working every day building community resilience, programming life-saving interventions and helping the most vulnerable get through every day.

Jess Lees is a Response Manager at Australian Red Cross. She has been deployed to places like Darfur, South Sudan and most recently Somaliland where she is overseeing Red Cross’ response to the East Africa Food Crisis.