சIslamists trap refugees dying of diseases they let take grip
Published Date: 03 August 2011
By Jeffrey Gettleman
in Mogadishu, Somalia
THE al-Shabaab Islamist insurgent group, which controls much of southern Somalia, is blocking starving refugees fleeing the country by setting up a camp where those trying to escape its territory are imprisoned.
The group is widely blamed for causing a famine in Somalia by forcing out many western aid organisations, depriving drought victims of desperately needed food. The situation is growing bleaker by the day, with tens of thousands of Somalis already deaADVERTISEMENT
d and more than 500,000 children on the brink of starvation.
Every morning, emaciated parents with emaciated children stagger into Banadir Hospital, a shell of a building with floors that stink of diesel because that is all the nurses have to fight off the flies. Babies are dying because of the lack of equipment and medicine. Some get hooked up to adult-size intravenous drips - paediatric versions are hard to find - and their compromised bodies cannot handle the volume of fluid.
Most of the parents do not have money for medicine, so entire families squat on old-fashioned cholera beds, which have a hole cut out of the middle, taking turns to allow diarrhoea to stream from their fragile bodies.
Dr Lul Mohamed, head of paediatrics, remembers Somalia's last famine. He said: "This is worse than 1992. Back then, at least we had some help."
Millions of famished Somalis have two choices, aside from fleeing the country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia, where there is more assistance. They can beg for help from a weak and divided transitional government in Mogadishu or they can remain in territory controlled by al-Shabaab, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and has tried to rid its territory of anything western.
The two al-Shabaab-controlled parts of southern Somalia are the only areas where the United Nations has declared a famine, drawing on scientific criteria of death and malnutrition rates.
People from those areas, interviewed in Mogadishu, said al-Shabaab fighters were blocking rivers to steal water from impoverished villagers to divert it to commercial farmers who pay them tax. Al-Shabaab is intercepting displaced people who are trying to reach Mogadishu and forcing them to stay in a camp its fighters run about 25 miles outside the city. The camp now holds several thousand people and receives only a trickle of food.
"I was taken off a bus and put here," said a woman at the camp who asked not to be identified.