(UNHCR) – Tens of thousands of Somalis have converged on Mogadishu in recent weeks in search of food, water, shelter and other assistance and about 1,000 are now arriving every day.
They are escaping from drought and famine in their home areas in south and central Somalia, which is already plagued by conflict. Over the past month, UNHCR figures show that nearly 40,000 Somalis have headed to Mogadishu while a further 30,000 have arrived at settlements 50 kilometres from the capital.
On Monday, senior UNHCR staff visited internally displaced people (IDPs) in Badbado, which is one of the biggest settlements in Mogadishu with an estimated 28,000 people, or about 5,000 families. More are arriving every day. Others are being relocated by the municipal authorities from settlements within the city centre.
“Our colleagues got a first-hand view of the desperation of hungry, displaced people as they jostled for food being distributed by local charities,” a UNHCR spokesperson said. “Given the growing numbers of displaced people in search of food assistance, the amounts being delivered are not sufficient to meet all of the needs.”
This has caused serious crowd crushes and even some looting. As a result, some of the weakest and most vulnerable people are left with nothing, despite the best efforts of agencies and charities.
One woman who had travelled for travelled for 11 days from the famine-affected Bakool region told the UNHCR visitors that she was forced to beg to provide for her family of five children and needed assistance.
An elderly man said he had fled from his native Lower Shabelle region, also declared famine-affected, after all his cattle died. The man said he was unable to push his way through the crowds during aid distributions, so was often left without food donated by a charity and organized by local business people.
To address the concerns and needs, UNHCR will begin distribution of 4,000 assistance packages for 24,000 people in the coming week. This includes jerry cans, buckets, pots, plates, bowls, cups and other utensils so that they can carry the food and water they receive. The refugee agency has also provided a large marquee so that a health centre can be established in Badbado.
So far this year, inside south-central Somalia, UNHCR has distributed more than 17,000 emergency assistance packages benefiting 102,000 people. In the coming days, a further 19,000 packages containing essential items for 114,000 people will be distributed. Another 40,000 packages containing high-energy biscuits, oral re-hydration solution and water purification tablets, are being procured by UNHCR and will reach an estimated 240,000 people.
In north-east Kenya, meanwhile, UNHCR on Monday began to relocate Somali refugees living on the outskirts of the crowded Dadaab refugee camps to a new site known as the Ifo Extension. More than 500 family tents were erected to accommodate at least 2,500 people. Some families have already moved in. A second site, known as Kambioos, will also open in the next few days.
The Dadaab camps have been receiving an average of 1,300 new refugees daily, fleeing conflict, drought, famine and insecurity in Somalia. The Somali refugees are arriving in an appalling state of health, dehydrated and severely malnourished, especially children.
Most of the new arrivals settle on land fringing the three existing Dadaab camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera. The Ifo outskirts currently have some 35,000 Somalis living rough. This creates strain on the fragile semi-arid environment, stokes tensions with the local communities and raises the risk of fire or the outbreak of diseases. The area is also prone to flooding in the rainy season.
On July 14, the Kenyan government announced that a long-planned extension of the Ifo camp could open, helping to decongest Dadaab. Pending the full opening of this extension, UNHCR is helping refugee families who had previously begun moving to the new site on their own.
In Ethiopia, the overall nutrition situation in the remote Dollo Ado camps near the Somali border remains a concern. Malnutrition levels among new arrivals are high. At present, approximately 30 per cent of children under five in the transit centre and Dollo Ado’s Kobe camp are under treatment for severe malnutrition. In Malkadida camp, 33 per cent of children under five are under treatment for acute malnutrition, compared to 22 per cent in Bokolmanyo, the third camp.
UNHCR and its partners are addressing the situation. Save the Children (USA) has started twice-daily supplementary feeding at the transit centre for all children under five, many of them severely weakened by hunger and the long walk from Somalia. In addition, all refugees waiting to be registered and transferred to the refugee camps are receiving two hot meals a day.
As of Friday, there were 114,646 Somalis in the Dollo Ado area camps. This is in addition to another 41,000 in the Jijiga area. Arrival numbers have dropped to several hundred a day from 2,000 daily a month ago. Kobe camp, which opened in June, is now full with more than 25,000 people. A new camp, Hilaweyn, for up to 60,000 is nearing completion.