Somalia

Italy airlifts aid to Somalia for distribution by UNHCR to thousands of displaced

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BAIDOA, Somalia, May 2 (UNHCR) - The Italian government flew in 15 tonnes of aid from southern Italy to the town of Baidoa in Somalia on Wednesday for distribution by the UN refugee agency to thousands of displaced people in the volatile country.

The aid, including 3,200 jerry cans, 2,700 blankets, 20 tents, 10 water tanks, four generators, a water purification unit and other non-food items, will shortly be moved to a UNHCR warehouse in Afgooye some 30 kilometres west of the Somalia capital, Mogadishu. An estimated 365,000 civilians have fled Mogadishu - many to the Afgooye area - since fighting flared there in early February between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and insurgent forces.

A chartered Antonov cargo aircraft brought the 15 tonnes of relief items from a United Nations logistics base in Brindisi, Italy to Baidoa, located 230 kms north-west of Mogadishu. The aid and airlift cost is an Italian government donation worth US$220,000 for assisting UNHCR's programmes for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia.

It was the first flight chartered by one of UNHCR's donor partners to land in the south-central part of Somalia since the TFG seized Mogadishu from the Islamic Courts Union last December.

Additional airlifts of relief items for Somalia's IDPs are expected to arrive in Baidoa in the near future. To date, UNHCR and its partners have distributed relief items to more than 50,000 displaced people. The aid was flown in from UNHCR stockpiles in Dubai or trucked from UNHCR's Mogadishu warehouses.

Earlier this week and at the end of last week, UNHCR and its partners conducted a distribution for some 13,500 IDPs in and around Afgooye, handing out items such as plastic sheeting, mattresses, jerry cans and kitchen sets. There are an estimated 43,000 displaced persons in Afgooye, which is located in Lower Shabelle province.

Many families who were at the mercy of the elements have used the plastic sheeting to shelter them from rain, the scorching sun in the day and the cold at night.

The exodus of civilians from the capital has eased since the weekend, when the fighting died down and the TFG claimed victory over the insurgents. But there is the danger that it could flare up again and most IDPs in Afgooye were wary about the future.

"None of these displaced people wish to go back to Mogadishu for the time being. They are still extremely afraid and they have no idea what the future holds for them, whether the city will remain calm or whether the heavy fighting will begin once more," said a local UNHCR staff member.

"People say they might begin to think about going back in one week provided the security situation has remained stable, others say they even want to wait two or three weeks before thinking about a possible return," the staff member added.

Despite the uncertainty, some people are making quick return trips to the capital to check whether their houses are still standing or have been looted.

Included among the 365,000 people whom UNHCR believes have fled Mogadishu since February, more than 147,000 have gone to the Shabelle provinces (84,000 in Lower Shabelle and 63,000 in Middle Shabelle), nearly 109,000 have gone to Galgaduud, about 40,000 to Mudug, nearly 28,000 to Hiraan, and some 26,000 to the Bay region.

By Alex Tyler
in Baidoa, Somalia