IDPs out of food, more clashes in Beletweyne

Clashes between insurgents and government troops in Beletweyne, Hiiraan region of central Somalia, have created serious food scarcities in the town, hitting thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) hardest, locals said.

"Already, two children are said to have died of hunger; many others are malnourished," a journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 1 August. "Most of the displaced are now resorting to eating fruit from the acacia trees - the only accessible thing."

Although Beletweyne was calm, tension remained high as residents and IDPs continued to flee fighting between insurgents inside the town and Ethiopian-backed government troops believed to have surrounded the town.

"The IDPs have become displaced again, this time they are heading to the southern districts where there are no local and international aid agencies," the journalist said.

Residents who depended on petty trade in the town now had no work and were finding it difficult to feed their families, he added. "Only a few business premises are open, the hospitals are, however, totally closed," the journalist said.

Peter Smerdon, a senior public affairs officer for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN the fighting had delayed trucks carrying at least 1,500MT of food. The rations were meant to have been distributed in July by CARE International.

"Eight convoys are delayed en route to the region," Smerdon said on 1 August.

The journalist said despite an agreement negotiated by local leaders urging both sides to withdraw their troops, shelling had been reported in parts of the town in the past week. At least 12 people died, most of them IDPs.

Adan Abdi Isse, the mayor of Beletweyne, said plans were under way to remove Ethiopian troops from the town and replace them with local police. However, he declined to give more details.

Since June, Beletweyne officials have appealed for urgent help for thousands of IDPs. "There are an estimated 15,000 IDPs in the town, with little or nothing to eat. Their situation is very desperate," Salah Mumin Muse, the district commissioner of Beletweyne, told IRIN on 25 June. "Most are from Mogadishu but we also have people who have lost their livestock and moved to the town in search of help."

Children paying highest price

Somali children are paying a heavy price for the ongoing violence, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement on 31 July.

Last week, seven children were killed in fighting in the capital, Mogadishu.

"The current environment of conflict, displacement and insecurity in southern and central Somalia has a seriously negative impact on children's and young people's long-term psychosocial welfare and healthy development," Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF's representative in Somalia, said.

UNICEF has received reports of at least 150 children killed or injured through indiscriminate shelling, bombings and crossfire during the past year alone, the agency added.

There were also concerns about the recruitment of children and their participation in the conflict, which had led to children becoming suspects and targets.

UNICEF recently announced it was scaling-up its nutrition programme after a survey found there had been an 11 percent increase in malnutrition in the past six months.

Nearly 180,000 children in Somalia are acutely malnourished, with 25,000 severely malnourished, according to UNICEF. The areas where IDPs have taken refuge after fleeing the violence in Mogadishu are at greatest risk of malnutrition.

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