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Somalia Violence and Displacement Worsen

While much attention is being focused on Kenya’s political turmoil, the situation in neighboring Somalia has gotten worse in recent weeks. The violence continues on a daily basis and more people are being displaced.

Dawn Blalock is a spokesperson for OCHA-Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about Somalia and whether Kenya’s troubles are affecting aid operations.

She says fortunately the turmoil in Kenya, the hub of Somali relief efforts, has not had any major effect on humanitarian operations. However, she says, “The situation in Somalia over the past month or six weeks has been quite bad. There’s been a significant amount of shelling of Mogadishu, of roadside bombs, kidnapping threats and these have both affected the civilians, who are more and more being caught in the crossfire. There are about 400 civilians admitted into the two main hospitals in Mogadishu this month; 400 were admitted with war-related wounds, which means we’re going at about the same rate we were in 2007. And there have been several incidents in which humanitarian aid workers have borne the brunt of the violence.”

The ongoing violence has prevented many humanitarian workers from reaching those in need and many international workers have been withdrawn, leaving much of the work to be done by Somali partners of UN agencies.

Asked how many people are considered at risk, Blalock says, “The latest analysis was just released this week and there’s been a substantial increase in the number of people who will need humanitarian assistance. The UN figures that roughly 1.8 million to two million are vulnerable and will need to have humanitarian assistance in the next six months.” Many have been displaced since the violence of the 1990s, but some 700,000 are considered newly displaced.

Thursday night in Bossaso, OCHA says a “massive fire razed one of the largest Internally Displaced People camps. About 900 people were affected. Blalock says fire can spread quickly in such camps because “they’re made of sticks and sheets and they’re (shelters) very close together.” On February 5th, there were also two explosions in Bossaso that killed about 25 people, mainly Ethiopian immigrants. About 100 people were injured.

In the capital, Mogadishu, she says, “In January about 30,000 left…so we’re still seeing a steady level of people leaving.” Some people have relocated to areas of the city once considered relatively safe but are now becoming frequent scenes of violence.