A displaced child in a camp in northern Somalia | Photo: UNHCR
A displaced child in a camp in northern Somalia | Photo: UNHCR

The UNHCR has warned that conflict and serious flooding have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes amid risks of COVID-19 in Somalia.

Heavy flooding, conflict, a crippled economy, impending desert locust swarms and the exponential spread of COVID-19 are threatening the safety and welfare of Somalia's 2.6 million internally displaced people. 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, fears these multiple, compounding emergencies will lead to devastating consequences unless there is a strong and coordinated response from the international community, national and local Somali authorities and humanitarian actors to meet the massive humanitarian needs, it said in a May 8 statement. 

Hundreds of thousands of IDPs 

The organization said in the statement that since ''the start of this year, more than 220,000 Somalis have become internally displaced, including 137,000 due to conflict. Natural and climate-related disasters including drought and resulting lack of livelihoods and floods are additional complex and interlinked drivers of displacement.'' 

''In South and Central Somalia, flash floods and the beginnings of riverine flooding caused by the seasonal Gurains have already displaced an estimated 90,000 with additional displacement expected, worsening significant pre-existing humanitarian needs faced by IDPs and host communities. 

"If current trends continue, this year's rains give every indication that they could pose the same catastrophic threat as the Deyr rains of 2019, which led to more than 400,000 people being forced to flee their homes.

"Swarms of desert locusts, the most destructive migratory insect in the world, threaten to decimate crop yields and cause widespread food shortages post the Gu rains,'' it noted.

The statement added that in ''March and April, armed operations against Al Shabab resumed in Lower Shabelle, resulting in more than 50,000 people being forced to flee their homes. 

"Communities were directly exposed to crossfire and mortar attacks in their villages, and roadside explosions while in flight. Recruitment of children, gender-based violence including rape, and arbitrary arrest where also reported.''

COVID-19 risks 

''UNHCR believes the humanitarian situation will worsen as COVID-19 further spreads. Most of the 2.6 million IDPs in Somalia live in overcrowded settlements and many, especially those newly displaced, live in makeshift shelters made of plastic bags, cardboards and sticks. Physical and social distancing is close to impossible, and there is scarcely enough clean water for drinking, let alone hand-washing. Conditions are ripe for widespread viral transmission,'' the statement added. 

UNHCR urges the international community to come forward with further funding for humanitarian agencies and the Government of Somalia in this time of crisis, it said.

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