The UN refugee agency said security concerns are making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to gain access and provide assistance to the growing number of victims of Somalia's civil war. The UNHCR estimated more than 220,000 people have fled Somalia's capital, Mogadishu since early May. Twenty-thousand have fled in the last two weeks alone.
This mass exodus of Mogadishu's residents began on May 7. That is when the al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam militia groups jointly launched attacks against government forces in several districts of the Somali capital.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to the Afgooye corridor, about 30 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. They joined about 400,000 other internally displaced people who fled from previous conflicts and are living in makeshift shelters.
UN refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, said the UNHCR is greatly concerned about their plight. He said these homeless people are packed into a small, congested strip of land with little or no basic facilities.
"Our local partners in Somalia report that domestic humanitarian organizations are overstretched and struggling to meet the basic needs of the newly arrived," said Redmond. "There is a lack of adequate shelter, of sanitation facilities and of clean drinking water. The situation has grown worse following recent torrential rains. The lack of sufficient latrines poses a major health risk," he said.
Redmond said the continued fighting and worsening security situation in Somalia is hampering the timely delivery of assistance from the port of Mogadishu to Afgooye and other parts of Somalia. He said this is worsening one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
"This week's scheduled distribution of 4,000 UNHCR aid kits in Mogadishu and outlying areas, for example, had to be postponed due to security concerns," Redmond added. "In addition, due to the latest incidents in Baidoa and Wajid, where militants occupied and looted two UN compounds yesterday, our assistance efforts in the adjacent region have virtually ground to a halt," he said.
The militant al-Shabab group has forced three UN aid agencies to leave Baidoa, branding them as enemies of Islam. The United Nations confirms the three agencies have suspended their humanitarian operations in Somalia.
The World Food Program was not asked to cease its operations. A spokeswoman said WFP is continuing to feed 3.5 million hungry people in Somalia. But, she noted it is becoming more difficult and more dangerous for WFP to carry out its humanitarian mission.