Merka IDPs virtually out of food

Three months after aid deliveries to the south Somali coastal town of Merka stopped, several thousand displaced people are facing a food and water crisis, sources said.

"What little food we had is gone; we have had no help in almost three months," Zeinab Sheikh Hassan told IRIN. "We are in a desperate situation and we need help now."

An estimated 9,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) live mostly in four camps in the town’s outskirts, 100km south of the capital, Mogadishu. The camps are Buur Bishaaro, Dajuma, Shiirkole and Bufow.

Most of the IDPs, community leader Abdulkadir Mohamed said, have been in the camps since early 2007, when an upsurge of violence in Mogadishu sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) halted general distributions in Merka in January because of insecurity – except for some distributions to hospitals and supplementary feeding that has continued.

"Our international staff were relocated from Merka at the end of October, but we still have national staff there," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said.

"We are currently asking all local administrations and armed groups in South and Central Somalia to provide security commitments following the killing of two WFP staff within three days in January."

WFP has reached agreements in many areas, but Merka has proved to be one of the more difficult. "We are moving toward a solution and will be able to return to full operations soon," Smerdon added.

Hassan, a mother of eight, said: "I have been in this camp for nearly two years. We had some assistance and although it was never adequate, we never went totally without food for long. Now we are really suffering. It is as if we have been forgotten."

Water shortages, due to the dry season, were making matters worse. "We have no water well and water is becoming more and more expensive. We cannot afford it any more," Hassan said.

Mako Ahmed, a mother of six, said she arrived in Camp Buur Bishaaro in August 2007. "We came with nothing. I left Mogadishu in a hurry. It has been very difficult, now it is getting worse. My children barely eat."

''What little food we had is gone; we have had no help in almost three months''

Her two youngest children were weak and sick. "They are passing red urine," she said. "I don’t know what it means but I am worried.

"We collect firewood and sell it in the town [Merka]. Some days I am lucky if I feed them one meal a day but there are days when we don't eat at all," she told IRIN.

Despite the desperate situation in the camps, IDPs were not yet ready to return to Mogadishu. The latest fighting there, on 24 and 25 February, has not helped, Mohammed said.

Fighting between government forces and the Hisbul Islami - a militia formed by a breakaway faction of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia and three other insurgent groups - has reportedly recently killed at least 40 people and injured more than 200.

In a 4 March statement, Amnesty International called on the parties to the conflict to cease indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks and to take precautions to avoid loss of life and injury of civilians.