SOMALIA: Displaced families overwhelm Lower Shabelle town

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Local authorities in Merka, Lower Shabelle region, 100km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, have warned that thousands of displaced people seeking refuge in the town desperately need assistance.

"We have officially registered about 7,250 families [43,500 people] from March to August," said Mahamud Dahir Qooley, an interior ministry official in charge of humanitarian issues in the region.

He said there were two categories of displaced - those who fled the fighting in Mogadishu and those from nearby farming villages whose crops have failed and are looking for help in towns.

In late May and early June many of the displaced went back to Mogadishu. “However, since the beginning of August, close to 4,000 families [24,000 people] have arrived and they continue to arrive in the district," Qooley told IRIN on 4 September.

The displaced are concentrated in Merka town, Shalaambod and Janale, all part of the Merka district.

Another source said most vehicles arriving in the area were bringing people fleeing the fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and insurgents in Mogadishu. "Some have hired big trucks to bring them here," he added.

He said some people were moving in fear that the violence would escalate in the holy month of Ramadan. "Many people believe the insurgents will escalate their fight during Ramadan," he said.

Zahra Abdille, a displaced person from Mogadishu, told IRIN that she and four children were sharing a home with three other families. "We are lucky we have relatives here. Some of the others have nowhere to go."

Qooley said life in Merka was becoming very difficult due to the large numbers of displaced people. He said prices of food and other essentials had gone up dramatically.

"People [both IDPs and locals] are desperate and need immediate assistance,” he added.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) started feeding displaced people in Merka in April this year. “Now, WFP is assessing the possibility of assisting both the [displaced] IDPs and the host community in Merka district,” according to Said Warsame, information officer for WFP Somalia.

The local people have done all they can for those displaced. "Schools are now hosting hundreds of families and there are no more spaces for shelter," said Qooley.

He added that some of the displaced, particularly the August arrivals, were finding it hard to find any shelter and were camping "anywhere they find space".

He said the biggest need was food and shelter material.

At least 1,000 people have reportedly been killed and more than 400,000 displaced since the clashes erupted in February 2007.

Source: IRIN