WASHINGTON - December 29 - After suffering more than 15 years of conflict and a succession of natural disasters, including a severe drought and devastating floods in 2006, the people of central and southern Somalia have in the past 10 days witnessed the heaviest fighting in a decade. The clashes that initially erupted in the Baidoa region have spread rapidly southwards towards the capital Mogadishu and as far south as northern Lower Juba region.
Though there was panic and chaos among the civilian population of Mogadishu following the fall of the city on Wednesday, the situation on Friday was reported to be calm, with relative stability having returned.
There is no precise information on the number of casualties so far, but it may be assumed that hundreds have been killed. In recent days more than 800 wounded people – both civilians and fighters – have been admitted to hospitals and other medical facilities in the area. Thousands of civilians have fled their homes, although displacement has generally been over short distances and for short periods, with people returning once they were safe again. There are also reports of people being detained in connection with the clashes.
Concern has been expressed about a potential influx of refugees into northern Kenya, but to date no significant refugee movements have been reported.
There were already more than 500,000 internally displaced people in Somalia prior to the recent events, owing to the protracted internal conflict and, since November, to the severe floods in the south of the country. Much of the population was already suffering serious shortages, with many people already dependent on humanitarian aid. Infrastructure was in poor repair and public services were barely functioning.
Since the outbreak of armed violence last week, the ICRC has increased its support for various medical facilities in central and southern Somalia, including three hospitals in Mogadishu and 23 clinics run by the Somali Red Crescent Society. It has supplied these facilities with first-aid kits, surgical equipment and medicines. It is preparing another 12 tonnes of medical supplies to be flown to several destinations in Somalia in the coming days.
While there is no current estimate of the number of people displaced by the fighting, the ICRC is monitoring the situation and stands ready to provide those who have fled their homes with emergency aid such as shelter, water, food, health care and help in restoring contact with loved ones from whom they have become separated.
The ICRC has regular dialogue with the parties to the conflict, and has consistently reminded them of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, in particular the duty to protect civilians, wounded fighters and detainees, to ensure that medical staff, hospitals and clinics are spared, and to take every precaution when conducting military operations to avoid harming civilians.
Other ICRC activities
In addition to its emergency response to the new fighting in Somalia, the ICRC has continued its other activities in the country. These include some 300 health programmes and agricultural and livelihood projects.
Since November, the ICRC has also been furnishing emergency relief, including drinking water and shelter, for over 500,000 people affected by the disastrous flooding in various parts of the country. Other flood-related aid has included sanitation assistance and seed to help the victims regain self-sufficiency.
A major long-term ICRC activity in Somalia is tracing and reuniting families separated by the protracted conflict.
The ICRC is responding to this complex emergency through a network of qualified and experienced locally recruited staff and through its partnership with the Somali Red Crescent Society. The ICRC is one of very few humanitarian organizations currently operating in Somalia, where it has been carrying out humanitarian work since 1977.