23 November 2009

Somalia: Humanitarian Crisis Deepens as Beletweyne Control Shifts

Nairobi — Both locals and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia's central town of Beletweyne are experiencing increased hardship with several changes in the town's administration, residents say.

"Every time you think this group is here to stay and you adjust to them, they are replaced by a new group; we have had a change of administration three times since September," a journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 23 November.

The town has been alternating between falling under the control of government forces and Islamist insurgents, who have been fighting in the area.

The journalist said this had adversely affected the population as "aid agencies are unable to operate properly because they don't know who their interlocutor will be tomorrow".

The displaced, estimated at 15,000, who live in dozens of camps around the town, are the most affected.

"These people have been displaced numerous times; the little they get from WFP [UN World Food Programme] is not enough and most used to supplement it by doing casual work in the town," Haji Abdulle Mumin, an elder, said.

However, Mumin said since there was little business going on in the town, "no one is hiring". He said poor residents who depended on petty trade were also suffering.

He added that many of the displaced lacked adequate food and there were reports of children dying of malnutrition.

The frequent changes of administrations have compounded the suffering, he said. "You cannot settle and start a business when you don't know what tomorrow will bring."

Peter Smerdon, spokesman for WFP, told IRIN: "Changes in administration do complicate our work. We have to build new operating contacts, so that everybody knows what we are doing, every time a new one comes."

But, he added, "Security permitting, we will be carrying out food distribution in November in Beletweyne".

Malnutrition on the rise

Mumino Haji, an IDP and mother of six, said two of her children were suffering from malnutrition. "They cannot go anywhere or move; all I have to give them is maize and porridge and I got that only yesterday," she said.

She said the last food distribution before 22 November was three months ago.

Haji said she used to find work in town but now there was no work. "Even those who used to hire us have no jobs. Many shops and businesses have closed," she added.

Some 1.5 million Somalis are displaced. Conflict, drought and hyperinflation have combined to create a humanitarian crisis, with some 3.6 million needing food aid, according to the UN.

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

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