Fighting hampers aid effort inside Somalia amid fears of spreading famine

Plans to deliver assistance to up to 180,000 people in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia are being threatened by the latest fighting in the Somali capital.

An all-too-common scene in Somalia. A family flees drought in their home areas, carrying their belongings on a cart.  © UNHCR/R.Gangale

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency's plans to deliver assistance to up to 180,000 people in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia are being threatened by the latest fighting in the Somali capital.

A senior UNHCR official, just back from a five-week tour of duty in the Somali capital, said she had seen settlements for internally displaced people (IDPs) spring up across the city as Somalis uprooted by drought and famine flocked there in search of assistance.

These people are among some 180,000 in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia that the UN refugee agency would like to distribute aid to by the month's end. "However, at the same time, our ability to deliver that much needed aid is being hampered by the ongoing fighting in the Somali capita," said a spokesperson in Geneva on Tuesday.

There were already more than 370,000 internally displaced people in Mogadishu before the recent drought- and famine-related displacement, which has driven some 100,000 more desperate people into the war-ravaged city. This increase can be traced back to mid-June when UNHCR's partners recorded a sharp increase in the numbers fleeing to Mogadishu.

In July alone, more than 27,000 people fled to Mogadishu from the surrounding areas, mainly Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle, all heavily drought-affected areas. Almost as many people fled to Mogadishu last month as were displaced in the entire first quarter of this year (31,400).

According to the latest data from UNHCR's food security partners, given the current levels of malnutrition, mortality and humanitarian response, in combination with the likelihood of increasing prices and a harsh dry season, food security is expected to deteriorate over the coming months.

By August-September, all regions of southern Somalia are likely to be facing famine, according to the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, and it is expected that the influx of internally displaced people into the city will continue.

The news comes at a bad time. The fresh fighting is affecting the ability of UNHCR and other partners to deliver assistance to populations in distress at a time when their needs are most urgent.

"We need to maintain access to these people. Our staff's only means of travel in Mogadishu is in heavily armoured vehicles protected by security escorts. As a result of restrictions on these escorts, due to the ongoing fighting in the capital, our ability to move around Mogadishu has been severely limited," said the spokesperson.

This comes just as UNHCR was embarking on protection assessment missions in the city to better provide assistance and services to those in need.

Despite the long drought, some areas have recently been hit by torrential rains, including around the capital over the weekend. The rain contributed to the misery of many IDPs. UNHCR will distribute plastic sheeting in the city over the next week.

UNHCR has distributed over 15,000 emergency assistance packages for some 90,000 people in Mogadishu and southern Somalia since the declaration of famine in two regions on July 20. A further 13,000 aid packs for 78,000 people are slated to be handed out in the next 10 days.

Security situation permitting, shelter staff will soon be in Mogadishu to strengthen the coordination of partners distributing shelter and related emergency items, including plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and blankets. They will also assess warehouse capacity as UNHCR prepares to receive a number of airlifts of relief items in the coming days and weeks.

In Kenya, meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Somalia continues unabated, with more than 40,000 Somalis arriving in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camps in July, the highest monthly arrival rate in the camp's 20-year history.

So far this year, some 116,000 Somali refugees have streamed into the complex of camps, already the largest and most congested in the world. In the last two months alone, Dadaab has received some 71,000 new refugees, at an average rate of 1,300 per day in July.

In order to ease the overcrowding at the edges of two of the camps, UNHCR is continuing its operation to relocate refugees to two new sites. The relocation of refugee families from the outskirts of Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab to the new Ifo Extension is progressing well, with some 1,500 people moved every day.

By today, some 10,000 people will have been relocated by UNHCR and its partners. The relocation will continue until an estimated 90,000 people are moved. Meanwhile, a second site, at Kambioos, is being prepared for refugee families to start moving from Hagadera camp in the next few days.

  • Paralyzed by polio, Muktar, a 31-year-old father of five, is relocated by donkey cart from a temporary settlement into a new tent in Ifo Extension.
    Paralyzed by polio, Muktar, a 31-year-old father of five, is relocated by donkey cart from a temporary settlement into a new tent in Ifo Extension. © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • A family relocated to Ifo Extension builds a tukul next to their new tent to shield against the mid-day sun.
    A family relocated to Ifo Extension builds a tukul next to their new tent to shield against the mid-day sun.  © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • Refugees huddle underneath a blanket against the rain on the outskirts of Ifo camp while waiting for relocation to Ifo Extension.
    Refugees huddle underneath a blanket against the rain on the outskirts of Ifo camp while waiting for relocation to Ifo Extension.  © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • New arrivals to Ifo Extension go about the business of moving their belongings and settling in.
    New arrivals to Ifo Extension go about the business of moving their belongings and settling in.  © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • UNHCR's emergency response coordinator, Henok Ochalla, processes refugees for relocation to Ifo Extension.
    UNHCR's emergency response coordinator, Henok Ochalla, processes refugees for relocation to Ifo Extension. © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • A water truck fills one of the many water points at Ifo Extension.
    A water truck fills one of the many water points at Ifo Extension. © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • Men working to build latrines for refugees recently relocated to Ifo Extension.
    Men working to build latrines for refugees recently relocated to Ifo Extension. © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • A Somali refugee family is registered to receive a tent at the Ifo Extension site.
    A Somali refugee family is registered to receive a tent at the Ifo Extension site. © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • Somali refugees amongst their new tents in Ifo Extension in Dadaab, Kenya.
    Somali refugees amongst their new tents in Ifo Extension in Dadaab, Kenya.  © UNHCR/B.Bannon
  • A Somali refugee girl waits for relocation to the Ifo Extension.
    A Somali refugee girl waits for relocation to the Ifo Extension. © UNHCR/B.Bannon

Crisis in Horn of Africa

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