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Somalia: UN agencies speed up relief for tens of thousands displaced by conflict

Somalia: UN agencies speed up relief for tens of thousands displaced by conflict

Flooded Somali village
United Nations agencies today speeded up crucial relief operations for tens of thousands of Somalis displaced by the recent fighting between the Ethiopian-backed transitional government and Islamic groups, with a one month supply of food being distributed to 6,000 people stranded near the border with Kenya.

“It is vital to assist them,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Country Director Leo van der Velden said of the group, which took refuge near the Somali border village of Dhobley after fighting forced them from their homes and Kenya shut its border to asylum seekers.

The Somali non-governmental organization (NGO) WASDA began distributing WFP rations today to the 6,000 who had fled their homes, many women and children, as well as to 12,000 residents hosting them.

Meanwhile the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said humanitarian access remains limited, particularly in south-central Somalia, warning that medical specialists are urgently needed there to perform diagnostic tests and surgeries.

Mr. van der Velden said the widespread conflict in southern Somalia was greatly hampering WFP operations in the Lower Juba region as aid agencies try to assess how many people are still displaced. Some 190,000 people in urgent need of food assistance and other aid in Kismayo, Jamame and Jilib districts cannot be reached.

“If we are to operate normally and efficiently, we first need peace,” he added. “Somalia was already suffering badly from the worst drought in a decade followed by the worst floods in years. Now it has renewed war in some of the same areas hit by drought and floods. These people can't resist this kind of pressure and need our help.”

WFP is preparing on both sides of the frontier for an influx of Somalis into Kenya once the border is reopened. Despite new asylum-seekers being barred from Kenya, some WFP-contracted trucks loaded with food were allowed to cross into Somalia, though others were stopped.

Despite the renewed fighting in Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since the regime of Muhammad Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, WFP and its partners this week completed distribution of food to more than 80,000 people in the south of the country, often by boats hired to reach people trapped by the floods.

Before the latest conflict, WFP aimed to provide 1.2 million Somalis with emergency relief food in 2007 and almost another 1 million with other assistance such as school feeding, Food for Work, Food for Training and support to Mother and Child Health clinics.

Meanwhile in the north-east, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is airlifting relief supplies and has dispatched two emergency teams to Somalia and Ethiopia to check reports of new displacements and a possible influx into Ethiopia.

The agency has received reports of up to 10,000 newly displaced Somalis in Galkayo town, joining some 15,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) uprooted before the current round of conflict. There are some 80,000 IDPs in the border region of Puntland and Central Somalia, and more than 400,000 in the whole country.

“Next week, we plan to airlift 5,810 plastic sheets, 1,760 sleeping mats and 1,000 kitchen sets from our stockpiles in Nairobi [Kenya], as well as other items provided by UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund],” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today. “We've already got 2,000 plastic sheets on the ground, delivered by air yesterday.”

UNICEF today said it was “very disturbed” by reports that Somali children and women were among the casualties of aerial bombardments and that IDP camps were coming under grenade attack. It voiced concern that with the closure of Kenya’s borders, threats to fleeing Somalis had increased.

In a statement issued jointly with NGO Save the Children UK, UNICEF said it had received information that some children had been randomly shot in the street, while others risked being recruited to fight by re-emerging warlords.