Hundreds of nomadic families have fled the Middle Shabelle and Hiiraan regions of south-central Somalia after clashes between two communities claimed dozens of lives, sources said.
The latest clashes, which began on 18 February between the Hawaadle and Abgal sub-clans of the main Hawiye clan, were concentrated around the small towns of Eil Qoryaale, and Eil Baraf, 260km north of the capital Mogadishu, and the surrounding villages.
"The clashes have displaced hundreds of nomadic families on both sides," Yusuf Ahmed Hagar, the governor of the Hiiraan region, told IRIN. "We don’t have exact figures but reports we are getting indicate a few thousand are on the move."
Many of those affected have moved into the hinterland or towards major towns in the area for safety. A local journalist told IRIN that the Hawaadle were moving to the town of Jalalaqsi, about 270km north of Mogadishu, while the Abgal were moving south towards the town of Mahaday, 120km north of Mogadishu.
The fighting, Hagar said, was being fuelled by insurgents loyal to the ousted Islamic courts and water shortages. "They [insurgents] are providing weapons to the nomads and exacerbating the situation," he said, adding that water shortages in the area were "a contributing factor. We are appealing to aid agencies to assist the affected people, with water trucking a priority."
However, a local elder, who requested anonymity, said: "I don't think there is any involvement from the Islamic courts or anyone else," adding that the area was instead experiencing serious water shortages and people and livestock were in danger. "They have no access to wells or water points, because the areas they moved to were already dry."
Another local source said the two groups had in the past fought sporadically over grazing land and water points, but the latest clash was linked to revenge killings and the competition for water. "The water situation is really desperate and that is making it a matter of life and death."
Each side blamed the other for starting the fighting, he said.
While fights over grazing pasture and water were not unusual in these areas, he said, "what is unusual is for the clashes to continue for over a month".
Hagar said elders from both sides had been dispatched to the area to contain the situation. Adow Rage, the Mahaday district commissioner, said he was confident they would bring the situation under control very soon.
"It is the first time and probably won't be the last but we intend to stop it from getting out of hand," he said. "We have sent officials to assess and report on the extent of the needs of the people affected."
Other sources said tensions remained high in the area even though the fighting had subsided.
Hagar, however, said: "I am hopeful we can contain the situation and there will be no new fighting."