Somalia: OCHA Flash Update 3 - Humanitarian Impact of Military Operation, 26 March 2014

Situation overview:

The ongoing Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military operation in southern and central Somalia has so far directly impacted Bakool, Gedo, Hiraan, Lower and Middle Shabelle regions. The situation remains fluid and movements, mainly short-term, continue to be reported, mostly around the towns directly affected by the military offensive. According to initial reports to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, an estimated 12,000 people were temporarily displaced between 17 and 22 March.

In addition to pre-emptive movements to avoid conflict areas, there are also reports of restrictions of movement of people and goods. The SNAF/AMISOM forces are reportedly taking main towns and moving along the main roads, but Al Shabaab has in some cases maintained control of supply routes, hindering the delivery of humanitarian and commercial supplies to affected people. Road access to recovered towns has also been hampered by checkpoints, rendering some basic commodities scarce and leading to an increase in prices. In Xudur in Bakool, prices have risen by 36 per cent on average since the start of March, according to food security partners. It is too soon to say what the medium to longer term impact of these movements and restrictions are.

Meanwhile, there is ongoing political instability in Baidoa in Bay region as a result of disagreements over the establishment of a regional state, which could further impact on humanitarian operations. Thousands of people have moved to Baidoa for assistance and safety, but tensions are reportedly running high.

Humanitarian impact/needs and response:

Bakool region: On 20 March, an inter-agency mission visited Xudur to assess priority humanitarian needs in the town. The rapid assessment team found that an estimated 1,800 people had returned to the town since early March when it was taken by SNAF/AMISOM. However, there were no settlements for previously displaced people who returned to the town as people appear to be staying with host communities. Health services are available although supplies need to be replenished. The hospital supported by the World Health Organization is operational. The team also noted that nutrition services need to be strengthened and that only one borehole is functioning. The borehole is in the compound where the SNAF/AMISOM forces are stationed, and it is not supplying water to the general population. People are taking water for drinking from the shallow wells around the town, and for other domestic use they take water from the water catchment, which is almost dry. About 70 per cent of the people had access to sanitation facilities. Hygiene kits for one month to about 2,200 people in Xudur were distributed. About 1,200 people in Waajid and 720 people in Rab Dhuure also received hygiene kits.

Bay region: Some 6,800 people are verified to have moved to Baidoa from Xudur, Waajid and other parts of Bakool and Bay regions. Unconfirmed reports indicate that an additional 3,400 people arrived in Baidoa between 17 and 22 of March from Bakool and surrounding villages in Bay. Health services are available to the people and 4,600 people were assisted with water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. All the verified 6,800 people who moved to Baidoa had previously been assisted with shelter kits.

Gedo region: An estimated 2,000 people have moved from Waajid in Bakool and Buur Dhuubo in Gedo. Household items and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies have been distributed to around 200 people, with plans for more distributions underway.

Hiraan region: An estimated 9,700 people originating from Bulo Burto have moved to surrounding villages and about 200 people have left for the regional capital Belet Weyne. Due to security and access constraints, no security assessment has been carried out in the area so far.

Lower Shabelle region: An estimated 900 people from Baraawe town in Lower Shabelle arrived in Jilib in Lower Juba, reportedly moving out of the town to avoid being caught up in conflict. On 22 March, SNAF/AMISOM troops took Qoryooley in Lower Shabelle and heavy fighting was reported in the area.

Outlook and challenges:

Humanitarian access to recovered towns remains challenging due to insecurity along the main routes to these towns. Access to people who have gone to the outlying villages of recovered towns such as Bulo Burto in Hiraan, Buur Dhuubo in Bay and Xudur and Waajid in Bakool is also difficult due to insecurity and a limited number of humanitarian partners in those areas. It is also hard to get reliable information from recovered areas due to access restrictions and the limited presence of humanitarian organizations. Humanitarian partners will continue to organize rapid assessments to determine urgent humanitarian needs among affected people as soon as the situation allows.

On the protection side, civilian casualties have been reported, but as with the temporary movements, the situation is fluid and figures have not been possible to confirm. Reportedly four civilians died in a suicide attack near a hotel where soldiers were staying in Bulo Burto in Hiraan. Further casualties were reported in Qoryooley in Lower Shabelle.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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