Mogadishu left reeling as climate and conflict spark rural exodus

Forced from their homes by floods and fighting, 800,000 people have crammed into informal settlements in the Somali capital. Now efforts are afoot to bolster local resources

by The Guardian Jan 28th · 3 min read
People fleeing drought in the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions of Somalia reach a makeshift camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

The number of Somalians being pushed out of the countryside and into the capital Mogadishu has reached an unprecedented high, putting pressure on the city’s already poor infrastructure and threatening its faltering recovery from three decades of conflict.

More than 800,000 internally displaced people dwell in informal settlements across Mogadishu, according to the office of the mayor. They are crammed into makeshift shelters with little or no sanitation and limited access to the most basic services. There are “critical” levels of malnutrition, according to an assessment by Somalia’s food security and nutrition analysis unit.

Scattered over 700 sites across the capital, families mainly consisting of women and children share common latrines and survive on one meal a day.

Last week, Goobjoog News, a local radio station in Mogadishu, reported that about a dozen children had died of starvation in one encampment in Kahda district. Among them, said the station, were young twins whose mother had been killed in last month’s truck bomb explosion.

Every morning, women from the these camps head into the city centre, looking for casual jobs such as clothes washing. With no family or clan connections to the local host community, they face abuse and sexual exploitation.

Mogadishu, second on Demographia’s 2015 ranking of the fastest growing cities in the world, has limited capacity to integrate such a large number of displaced people into its urban development system.

A soldier provides security as people forced from their homes gather at a camp in the Garasbaley area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP
A soldier provides security as people forced from their homes gather at a camp in the Garasbaley area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

“The most significant challenge posed by conflict and natural disaster induced displacement is its impact on rapid and unplanned urbanisation and the rural exodus,” said Dr Hodan Ali, head of Benadir regional administration’s durable solutions unit.

“Mogadishu is emerging from 30 years of conflict. The infrastructure, basic services and local government capacity are extremely limited and, as such, its ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of the city is small.”

Capitalising on the gap left by a weak government and the lack of a formal camp management system, an illicit business has sprung up, with “gatekeepers” soliciting land for new arrivals, linking them up with aid agencies, and in return taking a cut of what little aid they may receive.

Humanitarian organisations with limited access to the camps due to security restrictions are left with little choice but to collaborate with the unofficial gatekeepers, in effect paying – and empowering – illicit middlemen.

More people arrive in Mogadishu daily, driven to the city by multiple climate shocks and violence between al-Shabaab, Amisom and the Somali national forces. Last year alone, more than 100,000 people arrived in the capital, many of them returnees from refugee camps in Kenya and Yemen.

Nationally, over 2.6 million Somalis are displaced within the country, with Mogadishu hosting the largest concentration of people forced from their homes. Many in the city have not had a permanent home since the civil war broke out in 1991.

However, with funding from donors including the UK government and EU, the local authority has been trying to strengthen its urban resilience capacity to absorb and integrate the city’s mass displacement camps. The Mogadishu municipality established a dedicated durable solutions unit in the mayor’s office and last year developed a policy for internally displaced people.

Somalia’s overall humanitarian situation remains critical, with more than 5 million people in need of assistance according to figures jointly released by the UN and federal government of Somalia. The recent flooding in many parts of the country, which affected over half a million people, has compounded the already dire humanitarian crisis.

Last Monday, the durable solutions unit launched a five-year strategy to address the growing number of displaced people in the region.

“The strategy over the next five years focuses on strengthening local government to respond to the basic and protection needs of its citizens in good time, with adequate resources and be accountable to the people,” said Ali.

However, the greatest immediate uncertainty for people displaced to Mogadishu remains forceful evictions, since most are staying on private land. Last year alone, more than 100,000 people were pushed off temporary settlements.

“We hope to ensure that even in the first year of the strategy, we see a minimum of 30,000 people who are now displaced move out of the displacement towards development,” said Ali, speaking at the launch event.

“The biggest challenge we have in Mogadishu is that the majority of the investment goes into aid and handouts. I don’t think that is an effective way of utilising hundreds of millions of dollars and having to see the conditions we have in the camps.

“So it is really important to pull all these resources to have one common output. We hope to have more engagements and discussions with our international partners to ensure that we are all working for the same goal.”

last updated: 2020-01-28@01:01