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Thousands displaced by floods, fear of renewed clashes

Flooded neighborhood in Beletweyne
Abdullahi Salad/IRIN Radio

Flooding and fear of renewed clashes in Somalia's south-central region of Hiiraan have displaced thousands of families in and around Beletweyne, the regional capital, sources told IRIN.



Hamud Ali Jiliow, a local elder, said many people had fled their homes after the Shabelle River burst its banks this week and flooded parts of the town, which is 350km northwest of Mogadishu.



"So far, we estimate that 1,500 families [9,000 people] in Hawo Tako district have left their homes due to the floods in the past 48 hours," said Jiliow.



He said Hawo Tako, in the east, was the largest populated area of Beletweyne.



Most of the displaced had left for unaffected areas. "Many are staying with other families on higher ground," Jiliow added.



He said at least 1,000 families were marooned in their homes. "We are using canoes to reach them,” he said.



He said the only help people were getting "was from one another".



The river level was still rising, heightening fears of more flooding, said Jiliow.



Many parts of Somalia are experiencing the Gu long rains (April to June) with average rainfall in the Hiiraan region.



However, downpours in neighbouring Ethiopia have caused the rivers downstream in Somalia to swell, leading to flooding, according to the Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).



"[Shabelle] River levels have increased drastically over the last few days; there is therefore a likelihood of high risk of flooding in the lower reaches of Shabelle in the coming week," SWALIM reported, adding that "this may however be worsened by weak river embankments along the Shabelle River".



"Quiet exodus"



Meanwhile, fears of major clashes in Beletweyne have contributed to a "quiet exodus" from the town, according to sources.



A resident, who requested anonymity, told IRIN some residents of Hawo Tako and Kooshin districts, to the east of the town (and close to the lines separating pro-government forces and Islamist insurgents that control the town), were leaving their homes.



"They are worried and afraid that they may get caught in the crossfire once again," he said.



He said forces of the Islamist insurgent group, Hisbul Islam, which controls the town, were not allowing people to move out.



"They don’t want the neighbourhoods to be emptied and allow the government forces a foothold, so they are telling people to stay put," the resident said.



He said the pro-government forces were "about 20km away from the town".



"Everybody is waiting for the fighting to start any day," the resident said. "Only the heavy rains have saved us so far but as soon as the rains subside there will be clashes, no question about it."



Beletweyne has changed hands between government forces and insurgents about four times since 2009.



ah/mw

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