NAIROBI, 27 April 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of families in Somalia's central town of Dusamareb, the regional capital of Galgadud, are caught between an unending conflict and severe drought.
Following a weekend of fighting between Islamist militia groups, hundreds of families fled the town to the drought-ravaged countryside, locals told IRIN.
On 23 April, the Al-Shabab militia attacked Dusamareb, 500km north of the capital Mogadishu, and captured it from the Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a - a traditional Sufi militia group - but withdrew on the same night.
"This month [April], we have had to flee the town three times; every night mothers make sure they have enough clothes and food ready for the children, to run if the town comes under attack," said Hawa Abdulle, a women's activist in Dusamareb.
"The problem now is there is no food or water in the countryside; the current drought has made the plight of those fleeing even worse.
"We are caught between a war and drought. If we stay, we may become victims of the fighting groups and if we run, we are likely to end up in a place with no shelter, water or food - not much of a choice."
Dusamareb, a town of about 30,000 people, has been a war zone between Al-Shabab and Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a groups since 2008.
Sheikh Abdirahman Gedoqorow, the district commissioner, told IRIN another 4,000 families (24,000 people) displaced from Mogadishu were affected by the fighting.
He said most of those displaced over the weekend had returned to their homes. "They have no choice. The rural villages they fled to are some of the worst drought affected in the area.
"We have had a very rough year and if the [expected] rains don't come we will be in very serious trouble."
Kiki Gbeho, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Somalia, said: "We continue to be concerned about civilians being caught between conflict and drought. Of more concern is the fact that we are unable to raise funds to intervene and mitigate the devastating effects of drought on people's livelihoods."
Many more at risk
The number of needy Somalis is set to increase as the impact of drought deepens, the UN has warned.
At present, 2.4 million Somalis - 32 percent of the population - need humanitarian aid but with the ongoing conflict, coupled with the drought blighting crops and killing livestock, many more may fall into crisis, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) said in a statement on 27 April.
They said Somalia could slide into an even deeper crisis due to the combination of drought, skyrocketing food prices and constant population displacement from ongoing conflict.
"The impact of the drought is affecting most parts of the country, leading to livestock deaths and increasing food and water prices, which are making it increasingly difficult for poor families to feed themselves," said Grainne Moloney, FSNAU's chief technical adviser.
Meanwhile, Gedoqorow also accused Al-Shabab of looting offices of some local NGO offices.
Abdikarim Hashi Kadiye, an official of a local NGO Towfiq, told IRIN that its offices, along with those of another NGO, were looted when Al-Shabab took the town. "They stole a laptop and a desktop [computer] from our offices."
He said there was still fear that Al-Shabab could return. "Normally people used to flee to the villages but now the villagers are coming to towns because they have nothing. Their livestock is either dead or is walking dead."
Kadiye said the economy was based on livestock, "and because of the drought, livestock is not providing meat or milk. They cannot eat or sell what is left."
Abdulle told IRIN: "If we had peace I think we would be able to manage the drought. But we have no peace and with the drought, our situation is much, much worse."