Thousands of desperate Somalis fleeing Mogadishu as aid agencies struggle to meet needs
AFGOOYE, Somalia, April 23 (UNHCR) - UNHCR and its partners on Monday resumed distribution of urgent aid supplies to thousands of Somalis fleeing a sixth day of heavy fighting in Mogadishu.
Describing a scene of growing chaos, a UNHCR staff member in Afgooye, 30 kms west of Mogadishu, said a road linking the two areas had reopened on Monday morning and was filled with a continuous flow of displaced people. He said the Afgooye area was jammed with more than 41,000 displaced people, and hungry and thirsty crowds were becoming increasingly difficult to control.
"Yesterday, we encountered many problems as there are so many displaced people in Afgooye that the crowds disturbed the lines, making it difficult to proceed with the distribution," said the UNHCR worker.
"After being closed several times over the past days, the road from Mogadishu to Afgooye was finally reopened to traffic this morning," he said. "Civilians fleeing Mogadishu are arriving in a continuous flow as heavy fighting is going on in the capital. All of them report gloomy stories. Many are traumatised because of relatives killed in the fighting, and some children are crying because they have been separated from their parents while fleeing and don't know how to find them."
UNHCR and its partners hoped to distribute aid items to about 6,000 people on Monday, he said. But many of the displaced lack food and there is a severe water shortage. About five Somali aid organisations are attempting to truck relief supplies to Afgooye each day from Mogadishu, but the frequent closure of the road had disrupted deliveries.
Already weakened by hunger and thirst, the displaced urgently require shelter material for protection against rain and cold nights. UNHCR has been distributing plastic sheeting and other relief supplies in Afgooye since last Thursday, but trees remain the only shelter available to many of the displaced.
"Maybe it would be better to go back to Mogadishu rather than have my children stay out in the rain where they can get terribly sick", a mother of eight told one aid worker. But the situation in the city is getting worse day after day, so going back is not really an option.
In Mogadishu, local NGOs caring for the disabled have expressed growing concern to UNHCR over the physically impaired in the capital who are unable to leave.
The fighting in Mogadishu has sent an estimated 321,000 people fleeing since February, according to figures provided by a network of aid agencies and compiled by UNHCR. An estimated 111,000 people have headed to the nearby Shabelle provinces (43,000 in Middle Shabelle and 68,000 people in Lower Shabelle). Another 109,000 people have gone to Galgaduud region; 38,000 to Mudug; 25,000 to Bay region; and 24,000 to Hirran region. Another 14,000 are in other regions.
In addition to plastic sheeting, UNHCR and its partners have been able to distribute sleeping mats and mosquito nets in Afgooye. The agency has airlifted aid supplies from its emergency stockpiles in Dubai to the Somali town of Baidoa. The stocks include blankets, plastic sheeting, jerry cans and kitchen sets for up to 20,000 people. More emergency airlift flights are scheduled for this week from Dubai. The extra supplies should cover an additional 15,000 displaced people.