Somalia: War And Tsunami Force Somalis Into Slums

Nairobi — Civil war and December's tsunami have inflicted mass devastation on Somalia's housing situation, a Somali government official said on Tuesday at the 20th Governing Council of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.

"Because of the frequent movements and internal displacements due to the civil war, certain areas of Somali cities are extremely overpopulated, while other areas are not populated at all, and have become ghost neighbourhoods," Qasim Hersi Farah, the permanent secretary in Somalia's ministry of environment, said during a plenary session.

"This has led to heavy garbage disposal everywhere, shortages of shelter [and] water, and the growing spread of communicable diseases," he added.

Delegates from 58 UN member-countries are attending the five-day meeting, opened on Monday by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. The conference is expected to give new impetus to plans for meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular target 11 of MDG 7 - improving the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020.

Somali delegates at the conference estimated that 85 percent of their population were currently living in slums or partially destroyed homes.

A special theme of the meeting is "post-conflict and natural and human-made disaster assessment and reconstruction", a subject with special meaning for Somalia, a country devastated by 15 years of civil war and, more recently, the 26 December 2004 tsunami that tore through its northeastern coastline, leaving more than 20,000 people in need of aid.

UN-HABITAT estimated that up to 1,500 buildings and 40 villages in northeastern Somalia were damaged by the tsunami. The agency aims to repair 1,000 houses and build 500 new ones in affected areas, at an estimated cost of US $2 million.

Moreover, Farah explained how Somali society was abandoning its traditional, pastoral way of life.

"It is estimated that no fewer than 60 percent of the Somali population are living in urban areas with [or] without adequate shelter," he said. "This statistical proportion shows that the situation has changed from what it once was - a country in which 75 percent of people were nomadic or farmers before the 1980s."

Several years of drought have also exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the country.

According to UN-HABITAT, crises such as Somalia's can "turn back the development clock". It noted that a significant majority of Somali victims were civilians, especially women and children, in a world that already had to protect an estimated 20 million refugees and 25 million internally displaced persons.

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

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