Hope for calm as government takes over Beletweyne

[UPDATED] A week after government forces took control of Beletweyne in central Somalia's Hiiraan Region, residents and internally displaced people (IDPs) hope the prevailing calm will enable them to resume normal life.

"We are really hoping for peace and stability so as to go back to our homes," Sagal Ahmed, 18, an IDP in Jowhar, Middle Shabelle region, told IRIN on 30 July. "I delivered my baby as I fled fighting [in Mogadishu] on 26 July when heavy gunfire erupted in our camp between opposition forces and government. Since our displacement, the drought has made food scarce and the insecurity has affected the ability of aid agencies to reach us."

When President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed declared emergency law on 21 June, a section of Beletweyne was under the control of Al-Shabab, an Islamist opposition militia, while the government controlled the remainder.

Beletweyne residents have expressed hope for real peace since the government took full control of the town on 26 July.

"If the struggle for control of the town between the government and the Al-Shabab finally ends, then we do have a chance of accessing services such as healthcare and humanitarian assistance," a Beletweyne resident said.

According to Ali Mohamed Gedi, Beletweyne's police commissioner, a 6pm-6am curfew has been imposed on the town to restore security.

"The local people are happy about the curfew," Gedi said. "We have a good opportunity [to restore security] because the people of Hiiraan need peace and government institutions. We will lift the curfew when we are satisfied that the town's stability can be guaranteed."

Gedi added that the curfew was not affecting emergency services such as getting the sick and pregnant women to hospital.

Although business is returning to normal in the town, the government's regional and administrative offices have not reopened since they closed in 1991 following the ouster of then President Siad Barre.

On 12 July, Al-Shabab suffered a major military setback in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, when they lost significant territory to government troops.

Mogadishu has been a battleground for government troops and Al-Shabab, which controls much of the south and centre of the country.

Since fighting between the government forces and the militia group escalated in early May, more than 200,000 Somalis have fled their homes, according to the UN.

Photo: Abdisamed Mugadishu/IRIN
Somali IDPs hold up a banner during a demonstration in the Afgoye Corridor over claims that two NGOs were to discontinue water provision to the IDP camps

Water shortages

IDPs from 47 camps on the Afgoye corridor near Mogadishu have held demonstrations since 2 July to protest against an alleged plan by two NGOs to discontinue water provision to the camps.

The displaced - most of whom fled Mogadishu over the past three years and sought refuge in Elasha Biyaha, Hawa Abdi and Lafole IDP settlements - appealed to the Centre for Education and Development (CED) and Oxfam Novib to continue water supplies.

The demonstrations followed reports that the two NGOs were planning to discontinue water supplies because of financial constraints. The IDPs were also reacting to claims that Oxfam had halted its financial support to CED, which has rehabilitated water wells in several centres in Elasha, Hawa Abdi and Heile areas.

An Oxfam Novib spokesperson told IRIN that funding for the work they were doing in partnership with CED in Afgooye had unfortunately run out in mid-June. While Oxfam Novib and CED found other resources to continue providing water up to July, services had to be suspended on 1 August.

"Oxfam is extremely concerned about this situation. We are working hard to ensure that CED can resume providing a reliable source of water to people in need as soon as possible and we are hopeful that a solution will be found within the next few days," said Peter Kamalingin, Humanitarian Representative for Oxfam Novib in Nairobi.

Meanwhile Oxfam and its partners continue to supply water to nearly 200,000 people in desperate need in other areas in Afgooye and to continue their work across Somalia.

Nurto Islow Madey, a mother of five and an IDP at the Jimale Camp in Elasha, said the move would greatly affect people with large families like hers as accessing water was already difficult for most displaced.

Madey's husband was killed when a mortar fell on their Mogadishu home in April, leaving her the family's sole provider.