Satellite photos show spectacular urban growth west of Mogadishu
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.
"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