Displaced in Kismayo facing food crisis

NAIROBI, 19 October 2010 (IRIN) - The situation for several thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia's southern port city of Kismayo has worsened in the two years since Islamist insurgents took control of the town, forcing aid agencies to withdraw, thus cutting aid deliveries.

Residents told IRIN on 19 October that the IDPs now face a food crisis.

"There has been no [food] assistance in our camps in the past couple of years; there is no one [aid agencies] here, so we depend on what we can scavenge from the town," Bodadhere Abdi*, an IDP in one of the over dozen camps in the port city, said.

Abdi said in his camp, which is home to 350 families (2,100 people), it is rare to find a family that eats more than once day.

"I am lucky when I return from the town today if I make enough to cook one decent meal for my family," he said, adding that families with no male supporter were worse off because the mother has to take care of the children as well as trying to find food.

He said despite their difficult circumstances, more IDPs were arriving in Kismayo, fleeing fighting between government troops and insurgents in the capital, Mogadishu.

"On average, we get 8-9 families a day; those who can afford to, go to the Kenyan border to seek refuge, but most stay with us," Abdi told IRIN by phone.

He said most displaced had arrived since fighting in the capital intensified in August. "We saw the biggest influx during Ramadan," he said, estimating the number of IDPs in the town at 40,000.

Overall, some 1.4 million Somalis have been displaced by the fighting between government forces and Islamic insurgents, who control much of south and central Somalia, including most of the Mogadishu.

The UN World Food Prgramme (WFP) stopped food distributions in Kismayo when it ceased operations in the area in August 2008 following the takeover of the town by Al-Shabab, the largest insurgent group. The agency said it was not aware of any assistance being provided to the displaced since it left.

“The situation of the IDPs in the region remains miserable,” Roberta Russo, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency, told IRIN.

“There have been reports of malnutrition and the spread of diseases with fatal consequences for the displaced population,” she added.

Al-Shabab has been in control of Kismayo and the surrounding areas since August 2008 and has not allowed aid agencies access to the displaced.

Few jobs

Fartun Haji*, a mother of four whom IRIN spoke to by phone, said she arrived in Kismayo in September, fleeing violence in Mogadishu. "I went back [to the capital] from Ceelasha Biyaha [Afgoye Corridor] in 2008, hoping that things would settle but I had to run away again during Ramadan [August- September 2010].”

Haji said: "I do odd jobs when I get them, like everybody else, but sometimes it is not even enough for one meal. Sometimes I have to leave the children alone and search for something to eat."

She said there are "no foreigners [aid workers] to help, and the Somalis [authorities] are not helping. Maybe this is our fate."

Ibrahim Mudey*, an elder, told IRIN many of the IDPs were in a desperate situation and it was common to see two or three families sharing a kilo of rice or maize. "They have no choice. They have to depend on each other."

The IDPs' situation has been worsened by the lack of odd jobs many of them previously depended on."Business is very slow here and many families with money have left, and commercial activity is not what it used to be," Mudey said. "Many of the men go to the port to find some work as porters and the women usually work as cleaners in houses or shops."

Mudey said the situation was getting worse. "I don’t know how long we can survive this way."

(*not a real name)


Theme(s): Conflict, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]