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Monday, August 30, 2010

SOMALIA: Mogadishu fighting cuts food supplies

As the latest round of fighting in the Somali capital enters its eighth day, traders and civil society activists warn of food shortages due to the closure of many businesses and markets across the city, increasing pressure on the already food-insecure population.
Residents in parts of Mogadishu are trapped and unable to access food supplies and services, civil society sources said on 30 August.

"Many people, particularly in the north of the city and parts of the south, where the fighting has been heaviest, have been stuck in their homes for the past eight days; they have run out of food, water and other essentials and have no access to any help," Asha Sha'ur, a civil society activist, told IRIN.

The areas most affected are Hodan, Hawlwadaag, Wardhigley (south Mogadishu) and Cabdicasiis, Shibis and Boondheere districts (north Mogadishu).

"Even those with money are unable to go out and buy what they need because of the constant shelling. They have little choice except to wait and hope that the violence around them ceases."

However, the majority affected are poor people who buy what they need on a daily basis: "They don't have the means to buy in bulk and store at home." She warned that without a respite, many people "will simply die in their homes".

Trapped

Mahamud Haji, a resident of Siigaale area, Hodan district, one of the most contested areas, told IRIN that he and his neighbours had been prisoners in their homes for eight days. "Even the ambulances could not reach us. Some of those wounded died because we could not get them to hospital," he said. He said they were restricting themselves to one meal a day.

Ali Mohamed Siyad, chairman of Mogadishu's Bakara market traders, told IRIN the current fighting had been among the worst the city had seen, forcing many people to close their businesses.

"We cannot get food from the port into the market and we cannot provide the retailers in the neighbourhoods. What is happening is taking a heavy toll on those who depend on the markets for a living and those who depend on them for food," he said. "It would not surprise me if people have already run out of food."

Displaced and desperate

In recent months, Mogadishu has been a battleground for troops loyal to the government of the western-backed President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, with the African Union force, and armed opposition groups, chief among them Al-Shabab, which now controls much of the south and centre of the country.

A local journalist told IRIN the current fighting was the worst the city had seen since May 2009, when Islamist insurgents mounted an offensive aimed at overthrowing the government. That offensive displaced more than 100,000 people.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), since 5 July some 36,000 people have been displaced.

"About 15,700 have been displaced within the city, while 20,400 managed to leave the city," said Roberta Russo, UNHCR-Somalia spokeswoman.

"The level of despair of the innocent men, women and children living in Mogadishu is extreme. Most of the people remaining there simply don't have the means to escape from what they describe as hell."

She said women who managed to flee the city "told me that many don't even have the means to bring their loved ones wounded by the fighting to hospital, nor to bury them once they die".

Injuries increase
Medical sources told IRIN the number of injured seeking help was growing daily.

Ali Muse, who runs the city's ambulance service, told IRIN his teams had collected 69 bodies and more than 213 wounded from various parts of the city in the past seven days. Almost all were civilians.

"We are receiving many families, including very small children," said Mohamed Yusuf, director-general of Madina Hospital, adding that most of the injuries were shrapnel wounds.

He said the hospital had sufficient drugs to deal with the influx but manpower and fuel were increasingly becoming a problem.

Yusuf said he had been working for more than seven days with little or no rest. He said the generators powering the hospital were working 24 hours a day "and we are very short of fuel. If we don't get enough fuel we may not be able to help those who need surgery." 

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