Sunday 24 September 2017

Rains add to misery of famine-stricken Somalis

Abdi Guled in Mogadishu

Tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somali refugees were cold and drenched after torrential rains pounded their makeshift structures in the capital, as the UN raised concerns yesterday that renewed conflict in the country may jeopardise relief work.

Rains are needed to plant crops and alleviate the drought that has lead to famine in Somalia, but added to the misery of many refugees who live in structures made of sticks, flattened milk cans and pieces of cloth.

Disgruntled refugees said that more aid was needed.

"We are living in plight, we left our homes, lost our animals and farms so we ask everyone to help us to survive," Abdi Muse Abshir said.

Lul Hussein, a mother of five, said her family had a sleepless night after their makeshift home crumbled.

"Who's helping us? No one! So we are already between death and bad life," she said.

Aid agencies have limited reach in Somalia where Islamist militants are waging an insurgency against the country's weak UN-backed government.

The most dangerous group among the militants -- the al-Qa'ida-linked al-Shabab -- has barred major relief organisations from operating in the territories it controls.

The UN fears tens of thousands have already died in Somalia in areas held by the Islamist rebels because food aid could not reach them.

The African Union (AU) peacekeeping force anticipates that al-Shabab may try to attack the camps that now house tens of thousands of famine refugees in Mogadishu, disrupting even further the distribution of food aid. The AU force launched a new offensive on Thursday to push the militants' front line farther back from the camps.

The drought and the famine in Somalia has affected more than 11.5 million people in the Horn of Africa and created a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.

The World Food Programme says it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis who live in al-Shabab-controlled territory in south-central Somalia.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a report released yesterday that the military offensive against al-Shabab was raising concerns that conflict would jeopardise humanitarian response efforts.

"The current conflict will cause more civilian casualties and further displacements as the number of drought IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the capital continues to increase," the report said.

The report said displacement was already occurring in areas close to the districts affected by fighting in Mogadishu.

Cramped

The UNOCHA report about the situation in Somalia up to July 29 said that around 100,000 famine refugees had arrived in Mogadishu in June and July and a total of 160,000 since the crisis began.

The refugees in the camps in Mogadishu complained that camps were cramped with makeshift homes that had little privacy.

Also yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI urged the world not to forget the victims of famine during his weekly blessing to pilgrims.

"It is forbidden to be indifferent in the face of the tragedy of the starving," the Pope said from his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, Italy.

He invited the faithful "to think of the many brothers and sisters who in these days, in the Horn of Africa, are suffering the dramatic consequences of famine, aggravated by war and the absence of solid institutions".

Aid agencies say the region's drought is one of the worst in years in terms of the number of people affected.

Irish Independent

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