Global perspective Human stories

Shocked by living conditions of displaced Somalis, UN official calls for increased aid

Shocked by living conditions of displaced Somalis, UN official calls for increased aid

Just back from a four-day visit to Somalia, a United Nations refugee agency official today decried at the appalling conditions facing displaced Somalis who fled deadly violence in the capital, Mogadishu, and pledged intensified aid to alleviate their plight.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will scale up its relief efforts to help both the displaced and the communities hosting them, the agency’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins said through agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, who briefed reporters in Geneva.

Since the start of February, approximately 394,000 people – over a third of the city’s population – have fled the fierce fighting in Mogadishu, according to estimates of the UN Office for the Coordination Affairs (OCHA) estimates. Of these people, 250,000 have received humanitarian assistance.

Following two weeks of fierce clashes between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, and anti-TFG factions, Mogadishu is now relatively calm.

Although a few of the displaced are trickling back into Mogadishu, most say they want to stay put outside the capital and assess the security situation in several weeks’ time. “They fear fighting might break out again and some have had their houses destroyed,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Others cannot afford the cost of transportation back to the capital.”

The TFG has declared that it will evict those living in settlements in former Government buildings in Mogadishu, and UNHCR is currently negotiating with the TFG to ensure that these people are relocated on land within the city limits which is economically viable and is equipped with utilities and infrastructure.

Ms. Cheng-Hopkins stressed that UNHCR’s top priority should be to first aim to help the displaced who are receiving no assistance from family or clan members, according to the spokesperson. She also underscored the dangers of not helping host communities – which are equally needy given the influx of refugees – at the expense of aiding the displaced.

She also noted that aid workers are hindered in their attempts to provide supplies due to the security situation.

The agency also fears flooding might further thwart humanitarian workers’ efforts in accessing the town of Afgooye, now home to 43,000 people who escaped the hostilities in Mogadishu. UNHCR has already distributed relief supplies for 50,000 people in the town, which is 30 kilometres away from the capital, and surrounding areas.

In the first leg of her visit, Ms. Hopkins-Cheng visited Baidoa, over 200 kilometres north-west of Mogadishu, which is sheltering almost 17,000 displaced people.

She went to several settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have swollen with a surge of new arrivals, who live in tents made of fabric around sticks. “Some families have not been able to find enough material to cover the entire shelter, and the lack of plastic sheeting is leaving them exposed to heavy rain at night,” Ms. Pagonis said.

In Baidoa, Ms. Cheng-Hopkins also met with several Government authorities and visited hospitals in dire need of medical supplies.

Her next stop was in Galkayo, Puntland, in the north-east of the war-wracked country. Almost 10,000 IDPs have recently arrived in settlements in the area which is roughly 700 kilometres north of the capital.

UNHCR has been providing relief in Galkayo since January, distributing much-needed non-food items such as plastic sheeting and mattresses.

Earlier this week, the Italian Government flew 15 tonnes of aid – including 3,200 jerry cans, 2,700 blankets, 20 tents, four water generators and a water purification device – from southern Italy to Baidoa. These items were delivered via truck to Afgooye and their distribution will begin shortly.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is planning another round of airlifts of items in a few weeks, utilizing the K50 airport, 50 kilometres from Mogadishu, which was reopened by the TFG last weekend.

OCHA reports that the UN’s consolidated appeal for funds to assist Somalis is only 37 per cent funded. Although food needs have been covered for the most part, funding is still urgently needed in the areas of health, water, shelter and protection.