UNICEF condemns indiscriminate mortar attack on Somali hospital

UNICEF condemns indiscriminate mortar attack on Somali hospital

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today condemned a mortar attack on a hospital in the Somali capital Mogadishu, which has been wracked by escalating violence in recent weeks.

“We deplore the indiscriminate shelling of a medical facility,” said Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia. “It is an action that is totally unacceptable and one for which no justification can be given.”

According to UN estimates, 340,000 people – roughly one-third of the city’s population – have fled the deadly clashes in the capital Mogadishu since the start of February, and this number is expected to increase as more information becomes available.

“Where is the accountability in this conflict?” Mr. Balslev-Olesen asked. “Every day thousands of displaced people – most of them women and children – are living a nightmare of violence” and “enduring a perilous and intolerable existence.”

He also voiced frustration that the agency’s efforts to deliver urgently needed relief supplies is being hampered by the insecurity. “We cannot access our warehouses in Mogadishu and we cannot effectively reach the people who need our assistance the most.”

According to UNICEF, child protection monitors in the capital report that children have been victims of indiscriminate shooting and shelling. Displacement is also forcing women to leave their children unattended as they search for food, water and shelter. The agency is working with its partners on the ground to identify and reunite hundreds of children who have lost their parents during the violence with their families.

Since January, almost 17,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) have been reported in central and southern Somalia, which includes Mogadishu and surrounding areas. As of mid-April, there have been 593 deaths and nearly 40 confirmed cases of cholera.

UNICEF also appealed for $11.5 million to meet the nutrition, health, education and protection needs of children affected by the conflict.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations have finished their first round of supplying aid in the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of the capital, and now home to 35,000 people who escaped the hostilities in Mogadishu.

Among other supplies, the agency provided plastic sheeting to the displaced, who had previously been sleeping under trees.

“They now at least have a shelter to protect them and their children from the scorching sun, the chilly nights and the soaking rains,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said at a press briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR plans to begin another phase of distributing relief supplies tomorrow morning, which will help a further 13,500 people. Supplies were airlifted from Dubai to the town of Baidoa, 200 kilometres from Afgooye. Trucks carrying the items arrived in Afgooye after being blocked yesterday when Ethiopian soldiers closed a bridge on the town’s outskirts.

The agency’s Somali staff in the town state that Mogadishu has become a ghost town, with more than half of its neighbourhoods now deserted.

Meanwhile, according to his spokesperson Michele Montas, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week informed the Security Council in a letter that he intends to extend the mandate of his Special Representative for the country François Lonsény Fall by one year.

With the renewed mandate, Mr. Fall will serve in his current position until 8 May 2008.