GENEVA, Tuesday (Reuters)
Intense fighting is making it increasingly difficult to deliver aid to Somalia, where it is crucial to combat cholera outbreaks and maintain food supplies, UN agencies said on Tuesday.
An estimated 223,000 people have fled Mogadishu since May 7, when fighting erupted between government troops and al Shabaab militants who control much of southern Somalia and parts of the capital, the UN refugee agency said.
Gunmen from the al Shabaab group looted two UN compounds on Monday after the al Qaeda-linked militants said they would shut down three UN agencies operating in the country.
"The continued fighting and worsening of the security situation in Somalia is hampering the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance from the port of Mogadishu to Afgooye and other parts of Somalia, exacerbating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises," Ron Redmond of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told a news briefing.
UNHCR assistance in Baidoa and Wajid, where militants occupied and looted two UN compounds, had "virtually ground to a halt", he said.
Sweltering makeshift sites on the Afgooye corridor, southwest of Mogadishu, now hold a total of 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"These IDPs are packed in a congested strip of land with little or no basic facilities," Redmond said.
More than 43,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported in Somalia between January and June and were "treated as suspected cholera cases", World Health Organisation spokesman Paul Garwood told Reuters.
At least 135 people are known to have died of acute watery diarrhoea in that period, he said. Cholera has been confirmed in Mogadishu, the Afgooye corridor and several areas in Lower Jubba, Lower Shabelle, Bay and Mudug in south central Somalia.
"At the moment, it has been brought under control and contained. But the fear is this can explode if funding support is not provided," Garwood said.
The World Food Programme said its operations continued in Somalia, where it is feeding 3.5 million people, despite gunmen entering its Wajid compound in the Bakool region on Monday.
"WFP has managed to maintain our supply lines to hungry people in Somalia, overcoming obstacles that range from piracy on the seas off the coast to insecurity and attacks on our staff on the ground," WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella told reporters.
In the past year, four staff members of the UN food agency were killed in Somalia in the line of duty, she said.
Most regions of Somalia have agreed to WFP requiring local officials to provide written guarantees of security after the murder of two WFP food monitors in January, she added.
Al Shabaab said on Monday that UNDP (UN Development Programme), UNDSS (UN Department of Safety and Security) and UNPOS (UN Political Office for Somalia) were working against Somali Muslims and the establishment of an Islamic state.