The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says a team of aid workers that traveled during the weekend to Afgooye, a small town west of Mogadishu, found thousands of newly displaced Somalis living in extremely harsh conditions. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva the agency says more makeshift settlements for displaced people are springing up.
The team of U.N. aid workers says during the past week 15 new makeshift settlements have mushroomed along the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye. U.N. refugee spokesman, William Spindler, says this brings to 50 the total number of spontaneous camps lining the route.
"The evaluation mission, which was led by UNHCR, found that in some places the settlement population had more than doubled, putting further strain on scant resources and facilities around Afgooye," he said. "In general, newly displaced families have joined families who fled earlier in the year to Afgooye. Entire families are now crammed into tiny huts."
The UNHCR reports about 90,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced since fighting flared up nearly a week ago between Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government and insurgents. It says more than half of the displaced have fled to Afgooye.
There has been a lull in the fighting since last week. Despite this, the UNHCR says sporadic gun battles have been reported. It says there also are reports of Ethiopian troop reinforcements being deployed in the city.
Spindler says conditions in these makeshift settlements are appalling and the most basic needs are lacking. He says water distribution systems need to be expanded, and some water tanks are in urgent need of repair.
He says water is being trucked daily to the settlements, but the supplies cannot meet the increasing demand.
"Health centers also need to be strengthened to cope with the spike in the population in and around Afgooye," he added. "Hygiene remains poor in the crowded settlements, raising fears of an outbreak of cholera. There are also concerns about the nutritional status of young children. The U.N. team on Saturday visited a therapeutic feeding center with some 50 malnourished children, some of them too weak to cry. Leaders in some of the settlements also reported several cases of rape and called for improved security and protection of the IDPs."
Spindler says sporadic missions are going to the area to monitor the situation and, whenever possible, to bring in supplies. He says the delivery of supplies is often hampered by security problems.
He says the UNHCR has distributed aid to 78,000 people in Afgooye this year, and is currently preparing other distributions along with other agencies.