It’s more than a misery mile, it’s a nightmare 30 kilometres. Scores of camps holding 400,000 people driven from Mogadishu by fighting line both sides of a crumbling road running south of the capital. They are perhaps the greatest concentration of displaced people on Earth.
They’re also a concentration of utter despair for the men, women and children forced to live in the huts made of twigs and branches only a few metres apart covered with ragged bedsheets if you’re too poor or unfortunate not to have received or bought a tarpaulin to keep most of the rain out.
For it is these families, who despite civil war in Somalia since 1991, had homes, jobs, schools to go to and somehow managed to escape death and scraped by year after year in Mogadishu until the worst fighting ever forced them to give up and flee, often in terror and on foot.
Too hellish to live in
And they’re still fleeing, week in, week out. Some fled two years ago, some fled a few days ago because their time was finally up when Mogadishu grew too hellish to live in. If they’re lucky, they had the time to pick up a few possessions before abandoning their homes.
If they are unlucky, they just run, leaving behind dead and wounded family members in the ruins of Mogadishu and losing husbands, wives and children in the confused crowds on the road until they wash up in the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres south.
Driving along the road to Afgooye in an armoured vehicle, you can see through the bullet proof glass the lines of camps and what now for many tries to pass as a normal life: small roadside shops; painted signposts giving each camp name and even a telephone number; people sitting under a few trees passing their time in exile and waiting in vain for peace.
Sitting on a bed in a clinic near Afgooye and tending as best as she can to her severely malnourished two-year-old, Aisha Ali Hussein says that she fled 18 months ago with her five children. Daughter, Maymoon Mohamed Dahir, stick thin from diarrhoea has been here for 15 days. Aisha says she doesn’t know when they will be able to leave.
A few beds away lies five-year-old Fahia Ibrahim, the size of her staring eyes magnified by the thinness of her bony face and with her rib cage sticking out from the skin. Her mother says Fahia has been sick for nine months with diarrhoea and she’s been in the clinic for two months.
She says that her husband, who used to have a job in Mogadishu, is with them in one of the camps. But since they arrived, he hasn’t had a job so they rely on what humanitarian assistance makes it to Afgooye and sharing what little they have with their neighbours.
Despite security problems on the road from Mogadishu, WFP provides monthly rations to the displaced of Afgooye and in October plans to provide a two-month ration to 400,000 people in the area because of concern that deteriorating security may cut off access in November.
In the Afgooye clinic, the resident doctor is virtually besieged by a long line of mothers with malnourished children. He says malnutrition has doubled in the Afgooye area in the last two months – taking the number of in-patients up to 100 and out-patients to 400 every day. He says that most are malnourished with complications such as pneumonia, malaria and watery diarrhoea.
He says that the main reasons for the increase in the number of malnourished children are hyperinflation, new displacements from Mogadishu – some 37,000 people have escaped from the city in the past few weeks, and the lack of any employment in the Afgooye area.