November 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Factions Feud Amid Flooding In Besieged Somalia Food Dispersal, Health Care Caught In Deadly Grip

Dianna Cahn Associated Press
 
Tags:unrest

Somalia’s warring factions have resumed their battles - even though part of the country is underwater - jeopardizing food aid to thousands of people rendered homeless by weeks of flooding.

“These crazy people still need to fight each other, aren’t even willing to stop until the crisis is over,” Dave Downing of World Concern said Thursday.

While the flooding that has inundated large swathes of southern Somalia is a little more than a month old, clan fighting has wracked the country since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.

Over the years, aid agencies have developed strategies for working in Somali battle zones. They hire Somalis with factional links to serve as security guards and avoid giving aid simultaneously to areas controlled by rival groups.

“Security is an immense issue,” Downing said.

Even more so now that fighting has flared again in Baidoa, the center of the region hardest-hit by six weeks of rain and floods that have killed 2,000 people and driven 200,000 others from their homes.

Concerns about the safety of aid workers have slowed the delivery of supplies to people stranded on tiny spits of dry land around the overflowing Juba and Shebelle rivers in southern Somalia.

The saturated areas are unreachable by plane or car, and aid agencies have put on an urgent call for boats and helicopters.

Local boat owners, meanwhile, were profiting handsomely from the crisis - charging those trapped by flood waters $6 each for rides to dry ground, said Michele Quintaglie, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program.

Quintaglie said WFP was considering hiring Somali boat operators to rescue those too poor to pay.

Flood waters engulfed the Juba River town of Jilib on Thursday, preventing relief workers from reaching more than 40,000 needy people, said Josue Anselmo, spokesman for the Red Cross in Nairobi.

A convoy of Red Cross trucks loaded with plastic sheeting and blankets ran into deep water on the road to Jilib on Wednesday, and had to stop 10 miles outside the town, he said.

The Shabelle River, which normally dissipates into a swamp 60 miles to the northeast, was flowing toward the Juba, submerging a huge stretch of farmland. “It is like looking at a large sea,” Quintaglie said.

In addition to the challenge of getting food, clean water and medicine to flood victims, outbreaks of malaria and a few cases of cholera have been reported.

More than 10,000 people were stranded outside the inundated town of Afmadu, 50 miles west of Jilib, said Wendy Driscoll, a spokeswoman for CARE International.

They were threatened by advancing waters and about 30 percent of them have malaria, she said.


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