Central Somalia needs urgent aid: UN

Published on Saturday 23rd August 2008

Nairobi (Kenya): The UN children's fund (UNICEF) said on Saturday that a recent conflict in the town of Belet Weynein central Somalia needs humanitarian response due to massive displacement of people.

UNICEF said in a statement that over the past several weeks, fighting intensified in Belet Weyne between the Ethiopian forces and anti-government elements, causing massive displacement, civilian casualties and destruction of property.

"Children are particularly vulnerable. There are reports of children being killed, injured or gone missing due to the fighting" said Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF representative to Somalia.

"We also received reports from partners which indicate an increase in the number of unaccompanied children who have been separated from their family, relatives and communities. Some of them are very young children, under seven years old," he said.

Over 70,000 persons are estimated to remain displaced from Belet Weyne, having to endure dire conditions.

They lack even the most basic human needs including food and water, and forced to live in poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. They also lack basic health services and protection.

"Isolated from their supportive environments, these children are most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, as well as exploitation as cheap or free labour," Balslev-Olesen said.

UNICEF and its partners are building up their capacity to respond to the urgent needs in the town and its surrounding areas, but heavy fighting has seriously hampered humanitarian agencies' access.

According to reports from UNICEF's partner NGOs working on the ground in Belet Weyne, unaccompanied children are also exposed to the risk of recruitment by armed forces. Orphans and children without adult supervision are extremely vulnerable in conflict situations, it said.

"Lack of access is a major issue that we are facing today. Although humanitarian interventions are ongoing, our ability to respond quickly and effectively with high impact has been undermined significantly due to the deteriorating security conditions," said Balslev-Olesen.

"All parties involved in the conflict must prioritize civilians' safety and well being - especially children- and ensure access for humanitarian organizations."

So far, UNICEF said host and IDP communities have been able to provide support and protection for children and people in need of immediate assistance.

However, the capacity of the town and its surrounding villages is overstretched, as their livelihood and ability to cope with hardships have been severely undermined by the recent fighting and massive displacement, in addition to high inflation and food insecurity.

UNICEF also supports blanket feeding for 15,000 under-five children in Belet Weyne town and surrounding areas, and supports the treatment of 1,000 malnourished children through supplementary feeding programs.

Health services are strengthened through the provision of supplies for health facilities to serve approximately 200,000 people. Hygiene and sanitation promotion and services to prevent any outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhea are ongoing.


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