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Camp conditions in Somalia are among worst this aid worker has ever seen

By Hassan Noor
Streams of newly displaced people, fleeing violence in Somalia's capital, have fled to camps in Afgooye where living conditions are among the worst Oxfam's Hassan Noor has ever seen.

In recent weeks, more than 70,000 people have fled Mogadishu, the capital of strife-torn Somalia, following a burst of new fighting. Hassan Noor, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator for the country, has just returned from making a delivery of relief supplies to camps outside the city where many people are now sheltering in conditions that Noor says are some of the worst he has ever seen. Here is his account.

I flew into Mogadishu in a plane full with nine tons of Oxfam aid. We took blankets, mosquito nets, medical supplies, and plastic sheets for families to build temporary shelters. We also took 3,500 buckets: Many of the families who have fled the fighting have lost everything they had, so they can use the buckets to carry clean water and store milk for their children.

At Mogadishu airport, I was met by some of our local Somali partners who quickly unloaded the aid for distribution. We carry out all of our work in the country through partners like them.

People are still fleeing the capital. Every day more buses, vans, and donkey carts carry families out of the city along a road called the Afgooye corridor. In the past few weeks, tens of thousands of people have fled down this road to escape the violence. They are settling in camps nearby, where about 400,000 people have taken refuge in the past two years.

The living conditions in the camps in Afgooye are some of the worst I have ever seen. Families are sheltering in tiny huts, pieced together from plastic bags and sticks. When the rains come, the huts are washed away. Oxfam is about to provide 10,000 new shelters, which will improve the lives of about 70,000 people.

The most urgent need is for shelter, but people also desperately need clean water, food, and medicine. The fighting has had an enormous impact on children's health. One doctor told me that there is so much gunpowder in the air in Mogadishu at the moment that it is making children sick.

When people leave the city and arrive in camps—which are so basic and overcrowded—diseases can quickly spread, and there are few health services. I saw young children lying on the floor of the shelters, too ill to move. Many children are suffering from diarrhea and cholera. Oxfam has helped set up an oral rehydration treatment center where mothers can bring their children for help. Oxfam has also distributed mosquito nets to mothers to help them protect their children from the spread of malaria.

To help address the critical need for water, Oxfam recently expanded its water system—which features large, circular holding tanks—to reach an additional 78,000 people. In total, we now provide water to more than 200,000 people in Afgooye—and we hope to increase the supply in the coming months. Despite these efforts, the need for water remains huge. People line up for hours to get clean water.

But it was the terrible condition of people's shelters that struck me most.

"Our biggest problem is shelter," Halima Abdi, a mother of six children, told me. "If people see this house and the conditions that we live in they will be shocked. It is raining heavily during the nights. Without shelter it is a disaster for us. My children are sick and I'm worried what will happen to them. They don't have enough water or food either.'"