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Somalia: A Worsening Humanitarian Crisis

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein

Almost two decades after the overthrow of President Siad Barre, Somalia remains a failed state with little prospect of peace on the horizon. Endemic violence since 1991 have led to more than 500,000 people fleeing their homes and seeking shelter in neighboring countries. This has placed enormous pressure on Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen. A further 1.4 million people are internally displaced, while tens of thousands risk their lives by making the dangerous Gulf of Aden crossing from northern Somalia to Yemen.

Half of the population living in Somalia is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with one in five children acutely malnourished and few of the country's internally displaced children attending primary school.

UNHCR is monitoring the deteriorating situation in south and central Somalia where fighting continues to rage. UNHCR estimates that clashes between the forces of the Transitional Federal Government and Al-Shabaab militia have displaced about 33,000 Somalis over the past six weeks. More than half of these are people who have been displaced in Mogadishu which already shelters 372,000 displaced persons.

The general insecurity has made it increasingly difficult for relief agencies to access Mogadishu and the south-central part of the country. As a consequence, many displaced are not getting access to adequate water, food, health care, education and shelter.

Outside of Somalia, UNHCR is supporting governments in providing international protection to the refugees to meet their basic needs. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has appealed to all countries to "keep their borders open and allow fleeing Somalis to live in dignity."

The number of Somali arrivals in Kenya has been steadily growing over the past three months, with more than 31,000 Somalis arriving in Kenya this year. In early April, the High Commissioner, World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran and Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director for UN Women, visited north-east Kenya and spoke of their concern about the living conditions of more than 314,000 Somalis at the three refugee camps in Dadaab - originally designed to accommodate 90,000 people.

A joint statement noted that the high number of refugees has had a negative impact on the camp surroundings. The UN and other groups are working with local villagers to find sustainable local solutions such as water and soil conservation. To avoid the surrounding land being stripped bare in the search for firewood, humanitarian agencies have given refugees energy-saving stoves that use less fuel.

Concerns were also expressed about the poor hygiene and sanitation as a result of congestion exposing refugees to health hazards and security threats, with cases of one latrine being shared by about 300 people. Women and children are especially vulnerable and they are also exposed to sexual violence. The High Commissioner thus appealed to the Kenyan government to allow the completion of an additional refugee residential area in Dadaab.