May 3rd, 2007 06:19 EST
Somalia: UN agency steps up aid to first wave of people who fled Mogadishu
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today said it was stepping up a drive to deliver food to almost 100,000 of the 365,000 people driven from their homes in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, which in recent weeks as seen the worst fighting experienced by the country in 16 years.
With the worst clashes having died down, the agency said hopes to soon feed up to 150,000 of the displaced given the urgency of the situation. “We have to help these people now,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “Women, children and the elderly are sheltering from the rain under trees and cholera is spreading.”
The agency, which last week reached 32,000 people west of Mogadishu, is expanding its operations further west and south.
“Many people left the capital with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs – they are now trickling back only to find their homes in ruins,” Ms. Sheeran said. “The majority of those who fled the fighting are still suffering in terrible conditions outside the city.”
On behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), WFP on Wednesday airlifted 14 tons of urgently-needed supply items to Baidoa thanks to a donation from the Italian Government. The blankets, plastic sheeting, water tanks and water purification equipment are now being trucked from Baidoa to Afgoye for distribution to the internally displaced.
“With heavy fighting having died down over the past few days and with the cooperation of the Transitional Federal Government, we can now accelerate food distributions and expand into new areas previously cut off,” Ms. Sheeran said.
The agency is also urgently exploring ways to assist people inside Mogadishu itself. UNHCR estimates 365,000 people have fled Mogadishu – over a third of the city's population – since 1 February.
Somalia has been wracked by fighting in recent months. The country's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu and much of the country last December. Since then, there has been an upsurge in violence, including with the involvement of clan-based militias, especially in the capital.