In this image made from video taken Sunday, May 17, 2020, people wade through a flooded street in Beledweyne, central Somalia…
FILE - People wade through a flooded street in Beledweyne, central Somalia, in this image made from video, May 17, 2020.

GENEVA - Surging floodwaters in the southern regions of Somalia have driven more than 650,000 people to flee their homes this year. The U.N. refugee agency reports the flooding has caused food shortages, led to the outbreak of killer diseases and increased the risk of the coronavirus spreading in the country.

More than 150,000 flood victims have become homeless since late June, including 23,000 in the past week, according to officials. Weather forecasters warn the worst is not over. They predict the heavy rains and extreme flooding will continue for some time in certain regions and exacerbate the living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of displaced.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Charlie Yaxley reports many of the newly displaced are living in overcrowded, makeshift shelters with little protection from the harsh weather. He says families are exposed to increased risk of crimes such as robbery and rape.

FILE - Residents live in crowded conditions in the Sayidka camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, Somalia, March 26, 2020.

"Food is in short supply and many are going hungry with rising malnutrition in children, leaving them at risk of starvation," he said. "Sanitary conditions are poor and access to medical care is scarce and health partners warn of a risk of diarrhea, vector-borne diseases, respiratory-tract infections and other communicable diseases rapidly spreading amongst the displaced population."

Yaxley says there has been no reported major coronavirus outbreak, but he tells VOA the outlook is not good. He says people have little access to clean water, the cramped quarters prevent social distancing, and very little sanitation infrastructure is in place.

"So conditions are ripe for transmission of viruses, including COVID-19, and it is exacerbated even further because in some areas, we are not able to access some of the affected communities. And some areas, particularly in the southern part, are controlled by armed groups and militias."

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Yaxley says the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are not able to reach those areas and deliver assistance. He says the many people living there are largely left to fend for themselves.

Yaxley says aid agencies are doing their best to deliver medical and personal protective equipment, as well as make people aware of the hygiene measures needed to mitigate COVID-19 and other diseases.

The UNHCR is urgently appealing to the international community to support its relief efforts. The agency has appealed for $154 million to provide for the needs of an estimated 2.6 million internally displaced people and 30,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The agency says it has received 33 percent of what it needs to carry out its life-saving mission.