UNHCR opens Dollow office as Somalis continue to flee drought
11,000 Somalis flee lack of rain and income in last four months
NAIROBI, August 3 - The UN refugee agency has opened a field office in Dollow,and reinforced its presence in the town close to the Somalia - Ethiopia border in response to the continued flight of Somalis who have found it impossible to make a living because of prolonged drought.
Latest figures show 11,000 more people have been displaced within Somalia since the beginning of April due to drought and lack of livelihood, on top of 7,000 displaced in the first quarter of the year for the same reasons.
Opening of the office in the strategic town of Dollow, home to an estimated 7,600 IDPs, and just a few kilometers from the refugee camps across the Ethiopian border in Dollo Ado, will allow UNHCR to better monitor cross-border movements. The UN refugee agency will also be able to move further inside Somalia to deliver assistance as areas become accessible. Longer term, if the situation becomes conducive for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to return home, this office will also be an ideal base.
The new office will be used not only by UNHCR but also by six other UN agencies and provide a base for visiting missions. The opening of the new office also comes as UNHCR has gained a clearer picture of needs in the area after UNHCR’s Representative for Somalia, Bruno Geddo, returned on Thursday evening from leading an inter-agency mission that visited Luuq, home to an estimated 15,000 IDPs, in order to assess the humanitarian needs in the town.
“The Luuq District Commissioner told us that he would like to see international agencies ‘stop creating camps’ for Somali refugees in Dollow and Dollo Ado and instead to provide assistance directly in Luuq and other areas inside southern Somalia,” said Geddo, who is based in Nairobi. “This would mean displaced people would not be forced to move great distances in order to receive the assistance they need to survive,” Geddo said.
Geddo visited two of Luuq’s six IDP settlements and met with local authorities and local elders who emphasised that the next harvest will be poor because there was not enough fuel to pump water from the river for their crops and not enough tractor hours to tend their fields. They also stressed that a lack of levees resulted in destruction of their farms and crops whenever the river floods. Geddo said: “From all indications, the next harvest will be well below average, and it is likely that an increased number of people will be displaced in search of assistance because they will simply not have enough to feed their families”.
UNHCR also visited Belet Hawa, opposite Mandera on the other side of the Kenyan border and home to an estimated 13,000 IDPs. There, the District Commissioner said that rain-fed agriculture will fail due to below-average rains but farms irrigated from the Dawa river should do well in the coming harvest.
Geddo spoke with an IDP mother of four, originally a nomadic pastoralist from Bay region. She left her husband and their last 10 goats in Luuq and came to Belet Hawa in search of assistance. They were displaced after losing practically all their livestock to drought and she trekked to Belet Hawa four months ago. She is surviving by doing casual labour in town and washing clothes.
Neighbouring Gedo towns are also home to sizeable estimated IDP populations: El Wak (13,000), Garbaharey (6,000) and Baardheere (18,000). While the last two towns are still not accessible due to the presence of armed militants, UNHCR distributed 3,000 NFI kits in El Wak, 1,000 NFI kits in Luuq and 3,000 in Belet Hawo, reaching approximately 42,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, both IDPs and vulnerable members of the host community.
In one of the five IDP settlements in Belet Hawa, UNHCR came across 60 Ethiopian refugee families who had fled in the aftermath of th e 1977-78 Ogaden War. They were allocated land by the Barre Government in Lower Shabelle but were displaced again when Somalia’s civil war broke out in 1991. Geddo saw their 1988 ration cards and refugee identity cards from 1989. They had no intention of returning to Ethiopia.
“Families repeatedly displaced over more than 30 years show that the vicious cycle of instability, insecurity and human misery appears to be endless in some parts of the Horn of Africa,” Geddo said.