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Red Cross Warns of Thousands Fleeing Mogadishu


The International Committee of the Red Cross reports hundreds of civilians caught in fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia have been wounded in the past few days and thousands of people continue to flee. The ICRC warns the health situation in the city is deteriorating. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross calls the fighting in Somalia just the latest in a series of catastrophes in the country.

ICRC spokesman, Florian Westphal, says the inhabitants of Mogadishu are caught up in the worst fighting in 15 years.

"We support a number of medical structures, hospitals and the like in Mogadishu and the structures we have supported told us that over this weekend alone, they received 300 people who were wounded in the fighting, the majority of them civilians," Westphal said.

"At the moment, they are still working with the medical supplies which we were able to provide them with a couple of weeks ago and at the moment, that still seems to be holding," he added.

Westphal says the ICRC has been providing drinking water for 50,000 people daily. It also has been supplying displaced people with essential household items.

He says the health situation in the city is worsening and lack of safe water and sanitation is increasing the health risks.

"There is also regular occurrence of cases of watery diarrhea in Mogadishu at the moment," he said. "Again the reports we are getting, I am speaking about an average of 1,000 cases a week. Our partners of the Somali Red Crescent Society are running five rehydration centers in the city with material provided by us to try and help deal with the problem."

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 320,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says aid workers describe chaotic scenes as displaced people try to get into the small and overcrowded town of Afgooye, which is 30 kilometers west of the capital.

"The road linking the area to the capital reopened yesterday [Monday] morning and since then it has been filled with a continuous flow of displaced people," said Pagonis.

"One of our staff members in the area said the Afgooye area was jammed with more than 41,000 displaced Somalis. He said they were hungry and thirsty and the crowds were becoming increasingly difficult to control, making aid distribution difficult," she added.

Pagonis says many of the displaced lack food and there is a severe water shortage. She says about five Somali aid organizations are trying to truck relief supplies to Afgooye every day from Mogadishu, but deliveries are disrupted by the frequent closure of the road.