UNHCR starts distributing aid to 24,000 Somalis in Afgooye town
MOGADISHU, Somalia, September 28 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun distributing relief supplies for some 24,000 displaced people in the Somali town of Afgooye. The distribution began on Thursday, with plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans due to be distributed over a three-day period.
Many of the people earmarked to receive aid had fled an intensification of violence over the past two weeks in Mogadishu, located some 30 kilometres east of Afgooye. Nearly 65,000 people have fled the volatile Somali capital since the beginning of June, including 11,000 in September alone, according to figures compiled by UNHCR and its partners.
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) claimed in May that rebel forces had been expelled from the capital after three months of fighting which prompted almost 400,000 civilians to flee, but renewed violence sparked a second wave of departures in June. Only 125,000 people have returned to Mogadishu.
More than 40,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced in Afgooye since February. UNHCR staff report that new arrivals are putting pressure on families who have been living in 22 makeshift roadside settlements since fleeing the capital earlier this year. "People are so numerous that they sometimes block the road," one staff member said.
Many families cannot afford the cost of transportation any further afield, while others want to remain close to Mogadishu, hoping to go back when the violence eases. Some people travel to and from the capital every day to earn their living.
While UNHCR and other international aid organizations have assisted many of the families who arrived earlier this year in the Afgooye area, the new arrivals were in dire need of shelter and other supplies so a fresh distribution was organized.
More families have been fleeing Mogadishu over the past two weeks to escape the latest escalation in violence. New departures were registered this week after the TFG ordered residents of three northern districts of Mogadishu - Huriwaa, Yaakhshiid and Wardhiigley - to vacate their homes. The TFG claimed that they were supporting the insurgents, following the death of a commander and several soldiers during a firefight with rebels in the area.
As the road to Afgooye is clogged with people, Mogadishu residents have started using an alternative road to flee the city. New settlements have sprung up along the road to Warshiikh district, north-east of Mogadishu, where the living conditions are very precarious with no water, nor shelter material available.
Mogadishu is now divided into two parts - the northern sector is becoming deserted as residents flee clashes between the TFG forces and insurgents, whereas the southern part of the city is calm. "The streets of northern Mogadishu are so empty during the day, literally only a handful of people can be seen," said a UNHCR staff member in the capital.
The Bakara Market, which used to be one of the biggest in East Africa, is barely functioning due to insecurity. People are scared to walk close to the market with only the most desperate risking their lives to sell a few vegetables to raise enough money to feed their families.
The very reduced nature of the market threatens the local economy, at a time when inflation is running high. The prices of staple items have tripled over the past two months and counterfeit money is everywhere. Daily life has become unbearable for those who live in neighbourhoods which are frequently sealed off by the TFG, as they cannot leave their houses to make a living.
Residents of north Mogadishu who have not fled the city, have moved in with relatives in the relative calm of south Mogadishu, burdening already impoverished families. But they fear the instability could spread. "Everyone fears that the infectious disease of chaos might soon engulf the other half of the city," the UNHCR staffer added.