Daily struggle for displaced families from Mogadishu
AFGOOYE, Somalia, November 30 (UNHCR) - Weeks of rain have turned the countryside around the Somali town of Afgooye a rich green, but the regular showers have also made life even more miserable for the tens of thousands of displaced people here.
Afgooye has been swamped by people fleeing waves of fighting between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government forces and insurgents this year in the capital Mogadishu, located some 30 kilometres to the east.
There are now an estimated 200,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in this normally sleepy town and many are living in appalling conditions. They are among some 600,000 people who have left Mogadishu. Makeshift settlements cover every available patch of land and the simple shelters are packed so close together that it is sometimes impossible to walk between them.
A population the size of a city has become dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, while the influx of new arrivals over the past few weeks means food, shelter, water and health care are insufficient to meet demand. Sanitation remains a major problem.
Jerry cans in hand, people queue along the road, waiting for the water truck to arrive so that they have something to drink and cook with. They bathe, whether they want to or not, when the rain showers pelt the town.
These people rely heavily on humanitarian aid agencies like UNHCR, which has distributed assistance to up to 90,000 displaced Somalis in Afgooye this year. The UN refugee agency is preparing further distributions once it has replenished aid stocks, which were emptied two weeks ago following a fresh influx from Mogadishu.
Many of the IDPs have tragic tales to tell and many show the signs of their suffering. A little girl's head is scarred where she was hit by a stray bullet; women carry malnourished children with distended bellies. A three-month-old baby with grayish skin can barely move his head. "He suffers from watery diarrhoea because his mother lives in a squalid settlement next to the river, where there is no sanitation," an aid worker explained.
A lot of families are distraught after losing track of relatives during their forced exit from Mogadishu. Several said they had to give money to armed men at checkpoints set up along the road to Afgooye. Aid workers also complained of difficulties at checkpoints, where men were demanding payments before letting the aid through.
Anab, who arrived in Afgooye a week ago with her 10 children, claimed she was ordered to vacate her house in Mogadishu by Ethiopian soldiers and became separated from her husband during the panicked flight out of the city.
She went to Afgooye to join friends who were living in one of the settlements after fleeing the capital earlier this year. "They let me share their tiny shelter, but it cannot accommodate 20 people, which means many of us have to sleep in the open air," she told UNHCR.
The constant rains make a hard life even harder and people search for new ways to protect themselves with the limited resources available. Khadija managed to collect some rags to cover her shelter made of sticks, but without plastic sheeting it will collapse in heavy rains. UNHCR has distributed the precious sheeting in the past, but the new arrivals have nothing.
Isman, who fled Mogadishu with two wives and 15 children, is fed up with the hardships of Afgooye and yearns to return to Mogadishu. "Here we have no proper shelter, so my children have to sleep under the trees. This is not a life for them", he said.
Hilowle, who arrived a few days ago, also yearned for Mogadishu and the job opportunities it offers. She was already living as an IDP in the Somali capital, where she sought shelter 17 years ago after fleeing violence in her native region of Baidoa. "Every human being wants to settle somewhere in his life, have a house in a good place with his family", she said. "How come I spend my life fleeing, always living in a flimsy shelter, unable to settle somewhere even once in my life?"
By Catherine Weibel in Afgooye, Somalia