The British relief agency Oxfam says the eruption of fresh fighting in Somalia is pushing the country toward an unprecedented humanitarian calamity. The agency says the violence has spread to a wider area in the Somali capital, uprooting people who had not had to leave their homes before.
Oxfam's Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Hassan Noor has just returned from a four-day trip to deliver medical supplies and other relief items to internally displaced people at camps in Afgooye, just south of Mogadishu.
The latest round of fighting between pro-government forces and militant Islamist groups, which began in early May, has added nearly 70,000 more people to the camps.
Difficult to describe
Noor says it is difficult to find the words to describe the catastrophe unfolding there.
"The situation is so appalling. You can imagine nearly half-a-million people displaced in one particular spot with all of their humanitarian needs. I mean, what I have seen with my own eyes, this was the worst I have ever seen in many years," Noor said.
Noor says thousands in the camps have no shelter at all to protect them from the heavy rains now pounding the area. Hundreds of young children, some with bullet wounds and others suffering from diarrhea and disease, are forced to lie in mud, watched over helplessly by family members struggling not to lose all hope.
Some people in the camps are long-time residents, who arrived during the country's civil war in the early 1990s.
Worst humanitarian disaster
But hundreds of thousands are relative newcomers, uprooted from their homes two years ago when Islamists launched a deadly insurgency against a government installed and protected by Ethiopian troops. Last year, the United Nations described Somalia as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.
Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia in January, allowing an Islamist leader, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, to take power of a unity government made up of Islamists and secular politicians. The moderate cleric promised to introduce Islamic law, raising hopes the Islamist rebellion would end. Tens of thousands of civilians began moving back to Mogadishu.
In April, the Somali parliament agreed to implement Islamic law, but the move did little to appease radical Islamist groups led by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group.
Noor says the intense fighting in May not only forced people recently returned to flee again, but it also displaced civilians living in areas previously considered safe.
"There are those who have been displaced for the first time because the war has extended to a few more areas, which did not have much of a problem in the past," Noor said.
Oxfam says, in the past few days, it has delivered nine metric tons of aid to Mogadishu, including blankets, plastic sheeting, and mosquito nets. The agency says it is planning additional aid deliveries in the coming weeks, but warns they may be affected if the fighting intensifies.