Satellite photos show spectacular urban growth west of Mogadishu

News Stories, 1 October 2010

© DigitalGlobe
Before: Afgooye corridor satellite images of the Ceelasha area in October 2007.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 1 (UNHCR) Satellite imagery from a UN refugee agency assessment on forcibly displaced civilians from Mogadishu shows that a virtual new city is growing up to the west of the Somali capital in the so-called Afgooye corridor.

© DigitalGlobe
After: Afgooye corridor satellite images of the Ceelasha area in July 2010.

"Following a new assessment [completed in September] we have revised upwards our estimate of the number of people in the Afgooye corridor to 410,000," a UNHCR spokesperson said, adding that the last assessment in 2009 put the number at 366,000.

The spokesperson said that a number of makeshift sites had sprung up along the 30-kilometre stretch of road since fighting in the beleaguered capital escalated in 2007.

The new assessment is the result of a complex, three-month-long exercise led by UNHCR on behalf of humanitarian agencies in Somalia. Due to the difficult security situation and lack of access it was based on high-resolution satellite imagery from which the refugee agency extrapolated the population size.

"The satellite images indicate that there has been very significant recent new building of both permanent and temporary structures. We were able to identify and map every individual building and temporary shelter. Overall there are 91,397 temporary shelters and 15,495 permanent ones in the area," the spokesperson said.

To determine the population size, UNHCR demographers measured the habitable surface areas of every dwelling and applied different population densities to permanent and temporary structures, based on population densities from comparable areas in Somalia.

In addition to some 410,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afgooye, UNHCR estimates there are 55,000 people in Dayniile to the north of Mogadishu, 15,200 in the Bal'cad corridor on the northern edge of the capital and 7,260 in Kax Shiiqaal to the west. Mogadishu's displaced population is harder to be precise about, but the refugee agency estimates that there are 372,000 internally displaced people in the capital.

"Reflecting the increased population has been a rapid urbanization of the Afgooye corridor clearly apparent in the satellite imagery," said the spokesperson, adding: "Entire new towns have replaced makeshift IDP sites with more people living in rudimentary buildings alongside the tens of thousands of shelters made of cloth and fabric."

Overall it appears that structures in Afgooye are becoming more permanent as hopes fade for a safe return to the capital any time soon. Over the past four weeks alone, almost 12,000 people have fled to the Afgooye corridor, which has become the third largest urban area in Somalia after Mogadishu and Hargeisa in Somaliland.

Living conditions in the Afgooye corridor are extremely difficult. People struggle for food and other basic necessities as the precarious security situation is preventing humanitarian agencies from accessing people in need.

Some assistance is getting there through UNHCR's local partners, but the amounts are miniscule in comparison with the needs. Many people take risks and walk to Mogadishu and back every day in search of a daily living. Basic services such as health and education are scarce and rudimentary.

The findings of this latest assessment in the Afgooye corridor have also pushed the estimate of the total number of IDPs in Somalia up to 1.46 million. In addition, the conflict in Somalia has produced some 614,000 Somali refugees, most of whom are in neighbouring countries.

By Roberta Russo in Nairobi, Kenya and Andrej Mahecic in Geneva




Afgooye corridor fast becoming the capital of Somalia's displaced

UNHCR completed in September 2010 the latest assessment of the internally displaced population on the periphery of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and has revised upwards the estimated number of displaced people in the so-called Afgooye corridor to 410,000. Since the escalation of the conflict in Somalia in 2007, a number of makeshift sites have sprung up along the 30-kilometre stretch of road leading west from Mogadishu to Afgooye town. In September 2009, an earlier UNHCR assessment put the number at 366,000. The latest assessment is the result of a three-month-long exercise led by UNHCR on behalf of humanitarian agencies in Somalia. Due to the difficult security situation and lack of access, it was based on high-resolution satellite imagery which allowed precise mapping of temporary shelters and measurement of buildings and subsequent application of the population density data. The rapid urbanization of the Afgooye corridor is clearly evident in the satellite imagery.

Afgooye corridor fast becoming the capital of Somalia's displaced

Somalia: Mapping VideoPlay video

Somalia: Mapping Video

An animation of the mapping of temporary shelters and semi-permanent and permanent buildings.
Somalia: Virtual FlightPlay video

Somalia: Virtual Flight

A virtual flight over the Afgooye corridor based on the latest satellite imagery.

UNHCR country pages

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.