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Somalia: Violence in Gaalkacyo displaces 75,000 people

24 Oct 2016


Justin Brady, the Head of Office for OCHA Somalia, travelled to Gaalkacyo on 17 October to assess the situation. He shares his story.

19 October 2016, Gaalkacyo, Somalia: The onset of the rainy season is likely to worsen living conditions for those displaced by the violence who are now seeking shelter in the open in Xaar-xaarka area. Credit: OCHA/G.Isse

Violence broke out in Gaalkacyo on 7 October 2016, leaving 11 people dead and dozens injured. Over 75,000 people have now been displaced. Sporadic fighting continues as the peace agreement reached by clan elders and the business community on 9 October has failed to hold. The Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts to restore peace in Gaalkacyo are under way. Justin Brady, the Head of Office for OCHA Somalia, travelled to Gaalkacyo on 17 October to assess the situation. He shares his story. 

“The approach to Gaalkacyo airport afforded an expansive view of the city. It looked unchanged from when I visited in February 2016 to accompany Professor Walter Kaelin, the world’s foremost authority on internal displacement, as he toured Somalia to advise the Humanitarian Coordinator in designing a durable-solutions initiative for the more than 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Somalia.

Some people have been displaced since the 2011-2012 famine that claimed almost 260,000 lives. Others have been displaced since the earliest days of the collapse of Somalia’s central Government in 1991. Our mission in February 2016 was to meet with local authorities, north and south, UN and NGO partners working with the tens of thousands of displaced people in the city and, most importantly, to meet the displaced people themselves. The displaced in Gaalkacyo are predominantly from areas to the south ravaged by conflict and drought. They are farmers and pastoralists, often from the most marginalized clans of Somalia’s central and southern regions.

During that mission, our meeting with authorities from both sides was intended to gauge the political will to support durable solutions, including local integration. Similar to previous meetings in Hargeisa, Garowe and Bosasso, we heard unqualified commitment from the two authorities to reverse the displacement trend and support the integration of displaced people to ensure their social and economic empowerment. Things looked encouraging.

But my visit on 17 October was for a far different reason. For the second time in less than a year, conflict between north and south had sent civilians fleeing for safety, some 60 per cent of them IDPs from the centre of the city. The fighting of November and December 2015 displaced over 90,000 people, essentially the town’s entire population. The total is now over 75,000 people to date, more than 80 per cent of whom are women, children and the elderly. Those who fled sought refuge in IDP resettlement sites, neighbouring villages or wherever they could find safety. They took what they could of what little they had. They lodged with friends, relatives or whoever could lend a hand in the tradition of Somali society. Most sleep unprotected outside because of a lack of space inside, just as the beginning trace of the Deyr (short rains) season arrives. Shelter, food and clean water are the priorities. Through a rapid assessment, the UN and NGO team members in Galkayo, many themselves displaced and affected by the conflict, will do what they can to assist with the resources available.

17 October 2016, Gaalkacyo, Somalia: Justin Brady, head of office for OCHA Somalia (left) talks with with displaced people in Gaalkacyo. Displaced families are now living in open spaces in the outskirts of the town. Credit: OCHA

We visited the Salama IDP resettlement area in the northern outskirts of the city. I had visited this area with Professor Kaelin in February. Salama already housed thousands of IDPs in improvised shelters that provide people, especially single female-headed households, with a measure of protection compared with the improvised shelters made of sticks, fabric and plastic typical of a Somali IDP settlement.

Each of Salama’s households now hosted at least two additional families. We met a group of mainly women and children in the community market, which had remained unused since its construction—a well-intentioned addition to the settlement that never met residents’ needs. Now it serves as improvised shelter for scores of women and children and some men. The fortunate ones who arrived first secured the stalls along the side walls and along the middle row that enjoyed roofs. But they again spoke of the need for shelter and food. They explained that the settlement’s borehole was overtaxed. They looked tired and frustrated and in some cases desperate. In the end, they looked like so many of Somalia’s internally displaced: like shepherds who had been turned into sheep and chased from one point to another, forced to leave belongings and livelihoods and depend on others for the most basic of needs.

If the rains arrive in earnest in the coming weeks, Gaalkacyo will flood and waterborne diseases may follow. If the rains fail, the drought conditions that have gripped northern and central Puntland will creep further south. In either case, the limited resources used to support people displaced by the conflict will be unavailable to people affected by nature.

When the soldiers and heavy weapons are withdrawn, and when the authorities of Galmudug and Puntland states of this new federal Somalia turn their efforts to resolving this long-standing friction where clans and crossroads meet, those who fled will return just as quickly to their already difficult lives. The question is, when?"