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Somalia: more people forced to flee drought and renewed fighting

02-02-2010 Operational Update

Alongside continuous attacks in Mogadishu, fighting has now also broken out in Somalia's central regions, leaving thousands of families displaced. Meanwhile, drought is plaguing the areas along the border with Ethiopia and Kenya, where the level of malnutrition among small children is worryingly high.

  General situation
 

The end of 2009 was marked by armed clashes in almost all regions of Somalia, including in the capital, Mogadishu, and by heavy fighting in the Lower Juba region, which led to new waves of displacement. In January, fighting also broke out in Somalia's central regions. Thousands of families left their homes in search of safety and shelter elsewhere, adding to the estimated hundreds of thousands of people already displaced within the country.

Since El Niño rains expected during the deyr rainy season (October-December) failed to materialize, the pastoral regions of central Somalia have once again had only very sporadic showers. Pasture and water are rare; herds are concentrated on those spots where isolated rain showers have allowed a bit of grass to grow. Until the next rainy season, expected to begin in March or April, drought will continue to plague the central regions of Somalia and the semi-arid areas along the border with Ethiopia and Kenya. The last good rains in those areas occurred more than three years ago. Malnutrition among children under the age of five has now reached worryingly high levels as families are unable to provide them with a properly balanced diet. Luckily, riverside areas did receive a few decent rains and expect good crops this coming season, which could mitigate some of the suffering.

Even though rainfall in southern Somalia was plentiful at first, the fact that it subsided early had a detrimental effect on crop yields. In parts of the south, farmers cannot retain seed for the next season because their harves t either failed completely or was very low. People have to try to find alternative incomes, which is almost impossible in Somalia today. In addition, resident families often have the burden of hosting relatives who have been displaced by the conflict and arrive with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

 
Assisting victims of the fighting in central and southern Somalia
 

Fighting in Mogadishu and in southern Somalia forced many families to seek refuge with relatives. In response, the ICRC provided 75,000 displaced people (IDPs) in central and southern Somalia with essential household items and shelter materials. Over 65,000 displaced people were given one-month food rations to help cover their needs and therefore also relieve host families.

" Unfortunately, most families can no longer sustain the burden of hosting additional family members, " said Andrea Heath, the ICRC's assistance coordinator for Somalia. " This has left many displaced families living in deplorable conditions – sleeping in makeshift huts and lacking even the most basic items needed for daily survival, as most lost all their belongings and are without money or work. "

Heavy clashes broke out in the Hiraan and Galgaduud regions as the new year began. The intensity of the fighting – but also the fear that it might grow even worse – forced thousands of families from their homes and many into makeshift camps.

To help treat the wounded, the ICRC provided the various medical facilities on either side of the front line with dressing materials and basic drugs. Facilities performing surgery were also given sophisticated kits, eac h of which contains enough surgical supplies and other medical items to treat around 100 wounded patients. From November 2009 until the end of January 2010 almost 1,200 patients with weapon-related injuries were treated in the two ICRC-supported hospitals in Mogadishu: Keysaney Hospital, which is managed by the Somali Red Crescent Society, and Medina Hospital.

To meet the needs of displaced families from Dusamareeb, the ICRC started to deliver water by truck in some 28 camps for displaced people. Currently 1.2 million litres of water are trucked weekly to about 36,000 people. A similar operation will soon start in Hiraan.

In order to avoid duplication and to cover the various needs of the displaced in the best possible manner, the ICRC is coordinating with other humanitarian organizations the distribution of items other than food as well as other actions that might be taken to help people recently displaced in Hiraan and Galgaduud.

 
Concern over malnutrition in central Somalia
 

As malnutrition in children under five years of age has become more and more worrying (with rates of global acute malnutrition of up to 30 per cent in certain areas), the ICRC provided support for the Somali Red Crescent as it opened three outpatient therapeutic programme centres in Abudwaq, Cadaado and Galinsor (Galgaduud region). The aim of the centres, which are located in three Somali Red Crescent clinics, is to treat severely malnourished children without medical complications. The centres have been operational since July 2009. Of the 689 children who have so far been admitted, 350 have been cured.

" The children come to the clinics once a week to receive highly nutritional ready-to-eat food rations, " explained Hillary Floate, an ICRC nutritionist. " We check their appetite and make sure ther e are no complications, and then they take the rest of their ration home. If the children are severely ill and cannot eat on their own, they are admitted to a hospital in Galcayo. "

With the aim of reinforcing these efforts and promoting better nutrition among the general population, dry-food rations were distributed to some 24,000 people in the area of Abudwaq in December. Further distributions are planned for the coming weeks and months, with supplementary food for children under five years old.

 
Protection of the civilian population
 

The ICRC remains deeply concerned about the devastating effects of the ongoing fighting on the civilian population, on medical centres and staff, and on patients.

All warring parties must comply with the rules of international humanitarian law. In particular, they must distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and persons taking a direct part in hostilities and military objectives on the other. Attacks may be directed only against persons taking a direct part in hostilities and against military objectives, and warring parties must take all necessary precautions to spare the civilian population and civilian objects, including medical facilities.

The ICRC and the Somalia Red Crescent again call for greater respect for international humanitarian law as a means of protecting the civilian population. In particular, they renew their call to prevent displacement and to enhance protection for those who do have to flee their homes.

 
For further information, please contact:
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17