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

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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

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Somalia: Mapping Video

An animation of the mapping of temporary shelters and semi-permanent and permanent buildings.
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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

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.

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Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

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