19 February 2009

Somalia: Water Shortages Drive Hundreds of Families From Their Homes

Nairobi — Thousands of people in Somalia's south-western Gedo region could starve after acute shortages of water and food, local officials and elders said, appealing for urgent help.

"Thousands of families in the region are facing a lack of water and food and are on the brink of starvation," Ahmed Mohamed Burkuus, district commissioner of Bulo Hawo, said. "If help does not arrive soon, it may be too late for many."

Burkuus said the drought was very severe and "will likely claim many lives if intervention does not arrive soon".

He said the worst-affected areas were in the western part of Gedo region near the Kenyan border. Many wells have dried up, forcing people to move "anywhere where they think they will find something".

Burkuus said many destitute families who lost all their livestock were arriving in the town but not finding much help.

"Bulo Hawo was already hosting displaced from Mogadishu and now we have more than 1,000 drought-displaced. We really cannot cope and need help now."

Many other families were heading towards the provincial capital Bardera, to be close to the Juba River, said a local journalist.

Hussein Ali Bihi, chairman of the elders' council in Bardera, told IRIN: "Close to 5,000 families are in the area and more seem to be coming every day."

He said most were nomads who have lost their livestock or "come with what is left of them".

Bihi warned that if help did not arrive soon, "there is no question that many people will die. This is the worst I have seen in years."

He said that the rains in 2008 were poor: "We had some rains last year but not much and we had none the year before."

Bardera families were hosting two to three families each, he said. "These are not rich people and cannot sustain this burden for long. We have reached our limit and can no longer cope," he added.

Thousands of families in the region are facing a lack of water and food and are on the brink of starvation

He said that trucking water and providing food assistance to the affected populations was "the most urgent priority".

The journalist said that insecurity, due to fighting between Islamists and pro-government forces, had contributed to the problem.

He said trading, which many locals depended on for a livelihood, had been disrupted.

"Many of the urban population depended on the trade and used to support their rural cousins and that has been severely disrupted by the fighting."

The insecurity has also forced many aid agencies to leave the area, compounding the problem.

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

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