IDPs living in substandard conditions - UN official

Internally displaced people in war-torn Somalia live in some of the worst conditions in Africa, a United Nations official said on Tuesday, calling upon the international humanitarian community to step up their presence in the Horn of Africa country.

"Their conditions in the so-called settlements are substandard in every respect. They don't have the basic amenities that they should have; they don't have water, sanitation, health, education or proper protection," Dennis McNamara, UN special adviser on displacement, told a news conference in Nairobi following a weeklong visit to Somalia.

"That's a shameful situation that we all need to address. The UN agencies need to do more. We need to have more people on the ground in Somalia; we need more experts on the ground; we need our international NGO friends to have more presence in Somalia. We don't have an international NGO, for example, doing health programmes for the IDPs [internally displaced people]," he said.

Displaced people in Somalia, whose number is estimated at 370,000 to 400,000, live in lawless environments where they have no protection from local authorities and are frequently subjected to gender-based violence. "Rape and abuse of women and girls displaced in Somalia is widespread and generally unaddressed," said McNamara. UN agencies and NGOs were currently trying to set up a protection-monitoring system throughout Somalia in bid to stop the abuse, he added.

McNamara deplored what he said was neglect of Somalia by the international media and by governments around the world. "If Mogadishu was Sarajevo, the world's press would be desperately trying to get in, and we would probably even have helicopters hovering about to do so," he said. "Media coverage is an essential part of mobilising government support, and we need it desperately on neglected long-term emergencies such as Somalia."

Only 40 percent of the US $330 million consolidated appeal for Somalia this year had been received, most of it in food aid. Other components of the appeal had received 20 percent funding, with agriculture and shelter, for example, receiving no support at all so far this year. "Donors have the responsibility to increase their support for these programmes if we are going to address these problems adequately," said McNamara.

The UN adviser also urged governments around the world to give the humanitarian community working in Somalia the political support needed to address insecurity in that country.

Authorities, where they existed in Somalia, were not doing enough to help those displaced by conflict during the past one-and-half decades. "Authorities in Somalia … are not meeting those responsibilities adequately, and therefore we are obliged to assist them in trying to protect those people. But we are not a substitute," said McNamara, who added that local authorities in some areas had impeded the work of humanitarian agencies.

McNamara visited IDP settlements in Hargeysa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland; Bossaso, in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland; and Baidoa, the south-central Somali town where the Transitional Federal Government is currently based.

In Bossaso, McNamara urged local authorities to vigorously prosecute traffickers of illegal immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia to Yemen. The crowded boats often capsized, killing numerous people, and traffickers frequently tossed people overboard when fleeing the Yemeni coastguard. "The authorities should also control local boats that ferry the migrants, who are often lured to their deaths," he said.