New challenges in Somalia, relief efforts under pressure in Kenya and Ethiopia

Briefing Notes, 29 November 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 November 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are concerned about Al Shabaab's announcement yesterday, permanently revoking work permissions to a number of UN organizations including UNHCR in parts of Somalia under their control.

This comes at the time of a dire humanitarian crisis in southern and central parts of Somalia. After drought and famine, continued fighting and heavy rains further aggravate already dramatic condition of displaced Somali civilians. More than two thirds of Somalia's estimated 1.46 million internally displaced people live in southern and central parts of the country and humanitarian needs there are immense.

We are assessing the impact of this latest development on our humanitarian operations in these parts of Somalia.

Continuing military operations and heavy rains are limiting the movements of displaced population in Somalia's Gedo region bordering Kenya. There have been no cross-border movements between Dobley in Somalia and Liboi in Kenya or vice-versa. People are unable to move as the rains make roads impassable. Others are reluctant to move, fearing ambushes or getting caught in the crossfire while on the move.

However, there are reports of over 500 people, including children, travelling on foot from Qooqaani, Tabta (both in Gedo region) and Afmadow (Lower Juba) towards the border town of Dobley. They cite a lack of food in their towns, cut off by the recent rains and military activity. Some people who have already arrived in Dobley told our staff that they were forced to leave their homes due to lack of food. Even those with means were unable to buy food. They indicated that they are willing to return as soon as the situation improves and are not planning to cross the border in order to reach Dadaab. A number of agencies are operational in Dobley, undertaking distributions of food and other assistance.

In Mogadishu, we noted a profound change in the root causes driving the forced displacement. While drought accounted for the vast majority of displacement in the Somali capital during the first three quarters of this year, as of October we have seen 8,300 people displaced by conflict in the capital and just 500 displaced as a result of the drought.

Overall, our partners and staff are reporting that the movements into Mogadishu from other regions have declined compared to previous months, mainly due to fighting in Daynile and Heliwa districts. Reported displacements were mostly within Mogadishu districts and also from Daynile to Hodan district.

In neighbouring Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, insecurity continues to hamper UNHCR's operations. It has been several weeks since the authorities stopped registering new arrivals. Aid agencies cannot assess the number and condition of new arrivals as our movements are still limited in the camps.

More than 360 refugees have been affected by cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. Most are treated as outpatient cases and there is a need for more supplies of oral rehydration salts and other treatments. At the Kambioos site, the mortality rate has decreased and it is expected that the situation will further stabilize following food distributions over the weekend.

Despite security restrictions, the authorities managed to complete a mass oral polio vaccination campaign for all refugee children under five years of age.

Efforts are ongoing to enhance security measures in Dadaab, including the deployment of additional policemen. Refugees from Hagadera camp are conducting road patrols to help secure access to the camps.

In Ethiopia's Dollo Ado camps, we're seeing high rates of severe acute malnutrition (8 per cent) and global acute malnutrition (14 per cent) among refugee children under five at the transit centre. This is partly due to the low uptake of the wet feeding program. In response, UNHCR and partners are expanding the program to all children up to the age of 10, and adding milk powder to the porridge to boost nutrient levels.

The fifth camp in that area, Bur Amino, is ready to receive the first batch of more than 7,000 refugees from the transit centre as of tomorrow (Wednesday 30 November). The transfers from the Dollo Ado transit centre will start initially with 500 people and will increase gradually until all the refugees are moved to the new site.

Meanwhile, access to these areas is increasingly difficult due to heavy rains. The roads are intermittently impassable and the local airstrip is often flooded preventing flights from landing. This is seriously affecting our supplies and operations as we run low on fuel, electricity and safe drinking water.

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