Hundreds of families have fled Afmadow in southern Somalia as Kenyan and Somali government forces close in on it to oust the Al-Shabab militia group - even as ongoing rains render roads impassable, residents told IRIN.
"The allied forces are less than 30km away from us and there is a great deal of fear and apprehension as to what will happen," a resident, who requested anonymity, said.
He added that some 40 percent of the town's population of about 30,000 had fled to the surrounding areas. "Most are about 10-15km away. They put up makeshift shelters for protection from the rain.”
He said the displaced were afraid to put up permanent structures for fear that Al-Shabab would tear them down.
Al-Shabab has been in control of Afmadow, 620km south of the capital, Mogadishu, since the end of 2009.
"They [Al-Shabab] are not allowing people to take food or anything else out of the town to the displaced."
The resident said those remaining inside Afmadow were running out of essential goods. "We have had no goods coming in the last month; at this rate we will run out of food."
Food running out
Food insecurity continues to increase across Somalia, with four million people affected.
According to the UN, 750,000 people in Somalia are at risk of dying if they do not receive urgent intervention.
The Afmadow resident said fear of the impending showdown between the Kenyan troops and Al-Shabab had aggravated the town's situation.
"Those who can afford [food] are hoarding whatever they can lay their hands on; this is a small town, it won’t take much to clean out the markets, especially since nothing is coming in," the resident said.
Residents expect the fighting to begin at any time. "I am sure that as soon as there is a break in the rains they will start shooting and we are the ones caught in the crossfire."
Photo: OCHA Eastern Africa
|A map showing Afmadow and Kismayu in Somalia|
Haji Yolah, a resident of Bilis Qoqani, which is under the control of combined Kenyan and Somali forces, said even areas that were no longer held by Al-Shabab were suffering from food shortages.
"They [TFG and Kenyan forces] have been here with us for almost a month now and we have not seen a single aid agency," Yolah said. "We have people who are still living in open areas with little to shelter them from rains and the cold."
Yolah said pushing Al-Shabab out was fine "but we need something to eat and somewhere to sleep".
He said just because it had rained did not mean the population had food. "We lost most of our livestock and help from outside has been next to nothing; we are desperate."
He urged the Somali government and aid agencies to "not forget the people who are caught up in the fighting".
Mohamed Kaskey, a local journalist, told IRIN there had been movement of people but that this has been slowed down by the heavy rains in the area. "I am certain you would have seen more people on the move if the roads were open."
Kaskey said the reason Afmadow was not empty was because Al-Shabab "has it shut down. They are not allowing anyone to move."
He said those who had left were heading north instead of south [towards Kenya] "because of the military activities and because of reports that Kenya was stopping people from entering [the country]”.