The plight of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Somalia's southern port city of Kismayo, controlled by Al-Shabab insurgents, has deteriorated, with thousands facing a food crisis after supply routes were blocked, and drug shortages as patient numbers increase, locals said.
"We are extremely concerned about what is happening in Kismayo; Al-Shabab has blocked any attempt to bring supplies by road while the bombing of the airport and the near-closure of the port has contributed to the severe shortage of food in the city," Abdullahi Shirwa, head of Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency, told IRIN on 20 December.
The insurgents took control of the city in 2009, forcing many aid agencies to withdraw, thus cutting assistance to IDPs and other vulnerable people.
Kismayo residents told IRIN on 20 December the IDPs were not the only ones facing a food crisis.
"We are now seeing long-time residents who are no better off than the IDPs," Mooge Muraadsade, a resident, said. "Many of us depended on work and trade and both are dwindling here."
Al-Shabab controls most of southern Somalia.
Muraadsade said trade through Kismayo port had reduced to a trickle and many businesses that previously depended on the port's activity had shut down.
"Not as many ships as a year ago are coming and the current fighting with Kenyan forces is not helping," Muraadsade said.
The Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) entered southern Somalia in October to try to neutralize Al-Shabab, hampering humanitarian access to some parts of the region, most of which was drought-stricken.
A local journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN more IDPs continued to arrive in Kismayo daily.
"We had the long-term IDPs [from the 1990s]; those who came at the height of drought [mid-2011] and now those who are running from the fighting between the government of Kenya forces, the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and Al-Shabab."
Desperate for aid
The journalist said the displaced were cramped in dozens of camps. "The real problem is that aid agencies have no access to these people because Al-Shabab won't let them," he said, adding that Kismayo, "formerly a thriving business and trade centre, is dying. Sometimes I honestly cannot tell who is an IDP or a resident. Some residents are as badly off as the displaced."
Mohamed*, an IDP from the town of Jilib, 180km west of Kismayo, said: "I left because the fighting had reached us and Kismayo was closer than Mogadishu."
He said in the two months he had been in Kismayo, he and his family had not received any help from any agency. "We beg and depend on what other people give us."
A medical worker at the Kismayo General Hospital told IRIN they were receiving up to 10 people a day suffering from acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) or malnourishment.
"We are getting many children who are so malnourished and they are mainly from the IDP camps," he said.
He said the hospital was supported by Somalis in the diaspora but the last time they had received any drugs was two months ago and they were running out.
On any given day of the week, two or three people died at the hospital, most from hunger-related diseases, he added.
What his patients needed most was "immediate emergency aid such as life-saving drugs for malaria, chicken pox and supplementary food for the malnourished".
The Kismayo journalist told IRIN that Al-Shabab was becoming more strict and refusing to allow "even local aid agencies to operate freely; they have become even more paranoid after the Kenyan incursion".
In November, Al-Shabab banned 16 aid organizations, including several UN agencies, from operating in areas under its control, accusing them of "illicit activities and misconduct".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions