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Thousands displaced, millions in need of urgent humanitarian aid in Somalia, UN warns

Newly internally displaced women from drought-hit area sit with their children as they wait for help in Doolow Town, Somalia. (File photo by AP)

The United Nations (UN) has raised the alarm about severe humanitarian issues in central Somalia, after 100,000 people were displaced by fighting between pro-government forces and militia.

Speaking to a press briefing on Tuesday, the UN special representative for Somalia James Swan said, "We are concerned, even alarmed, by the ongoing fighting in Guricel, which is now continuing for the past few days."

Earlier this month, forces of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ), a paramilitary group opposed to radical Salafism, occupied the strategic town of Guricel, before being driven out last week by national forces, in an operation that led to the death of at least a dozen people including civilians.

"First and foremost, we are concerned by its humanitarian consequences, which have been severe. Reports are still initial but they signal nearly 20,000 families displaced, representing some 100,000 people," Swan said.

According to the UN, many of these people flee their homes to seek shelter in villages, where they struggle with drought and water shortages.

Swan also warned of "very troubling reports of damage to hospitals and civil society facilities as a consequence of the fighting," adding that such attacks violated international humanitarian law.

Tensions have been increasing since February, when President Abdullahi Mohamed's term expired before elections were held and he extended his own term by two years, drawing the wrath of the opposition between government forces and armed opposition militia.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimated that the number of internally displaced people in Somalia was 2.9 million. By 2022, it predicted, around 7.7 million Somalis will require humanitarian aid, as decades of conflict, recurrent climate shocks, disease outbreaks and increasing poverty are devastating the Horn of Africa country.

In its latest humanitarian report released on Sunday, UNOCHA stressed that "of these (displaced people), 2.2 million require 'urgent' humanitarian assistance," warning that poor rainfall can cause a major drought by early to mid-2022.

According to the UN, Somalia has long been struggling with climate crises, which usually resulted in widespread displacement, rapid urbanization, food insecurity, and increased poverty.

"Without humanitarian assistance, nearly 3.5 million are expected to face crisis or worse outcomes through the end of 2021," the UNOCHA warned in its report, adding that most parts of Somalia were still vulnerable to serious flash floods.

The report also addressed the country's fragile health system, saying that there had been a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and documented infections in the first quarter of 2021, which stems from a lack of trained health workers, poor health infrastructure, and a low development index.

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