Prices of basic commodities have risen sharply as a severe drought worsens in and around Afmadow, 620km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, leading to the displacement of hundreds of people.
In the past three weeks, at least seven small towns and villages near Afmadow have been abandoned due to drought and food shortages, a local aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 14 December.
He said an estimated 2,000 families (12,000 people) were affected.
Food prices in the area have risen dramatically in the past two months. "Maize [the staple food] has gone up from 350,000 Somali shillings [US$12] for a 50kg bag two months ago to 800,000 shillings [$25] today," he said.
A kilogramme of sugar, which was 28,000 shillings (70 US cents) two months ago, now retails for 35,000 shillings (just over $1), the aid worker said, adding that 1kg of flour was now 32,000 shillings, up 7,000 from two months ago.
"A large number of the population here depends on money from relatives in America or Europe but even that is getting less because people are sending less than they used to," the aid worker said. "It is a very grim situation we find ourselves in."
Like most of southern Somalia, Afmadow town - in the Juba region - is now under the control of the Islamist Al-Shabab, which opposes the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
Aid agencies have left the area due to insecurity, the aid worker said.
An elder from Afmadow, who declined to be named, told IRIN the population in the town and surrounding areas was dealing with two problems at once. "We are suffering from a severe drought and the highest food prices we have seen in years," he said. "Normally we have one or the other and we can cope but now we cannot cope with both."
The elder appealed for help from the international community and Somalis in the diaspora.
"The need is so great and people have no way of coping with the current situation," he said. "This is one of the worst drought and hunger situations I have seen in years."
He said most of the people who have left their homes lacked water and food and were moving towards Kenya’s refugee camps.
|It is a very grim situation we find ourselves in|
"Yesterday alone, seven trucks full of people left for the Kenyan side," he said, adding, "if this continues our area will be empty."
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) for Somalia said the agency had suspended its activities in most of southern Somalia, including Afmadow, "as WFP has been banned by Al-Shabab in most parts of [the] south".
The aid worker said locals had collected some money and started water trucking to two of the communities most affected.
"We have started water trucking to Diifo, near the Kenyan border, and Welmaaro villages."