GENEVA – The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing for strong International support to help millions of Somalis facing a growing number of catastrophic threats from conflict, natural disasters and the potential spread of COVID-19.
More than 220,000 Somalis have fled their homes this year because of drought, heavy flooding and increased violence and atrocities by al-Shabab militants. This brings the total number of those forced from their homes in the country to 2.6 million.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says the conflict and natural and climate-related disasters are crippling the country’s economy and threatening the safety and welfare of the displaced Somalis. It warns impending desert locust swarms, which have been creating havoc across parts of East Africa, could destroy much of the nation’s food crop.
UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley told VOA the harm from these locust swarms could be compounded by COVID-19. He said restrictions on movement and other preventative measures aimed at stopping spread of the virus are seriously affecting livelihoods.
“People are seeing job losses as businesses are forced to close and people losing their incomes as a result and, at the same time, we are seeing food prices rise. So, all of these things together, and particularly with the other things we mentioned with regards to the floods, the ongoing violence, as well, could lead to a perfect storm with potentially devastating consequences for these internally displaced people in Somalia,” Yaxley said.
The World Health Organization is reporting 928 cases of the coronavirus, including 44 deaths, in Somalia. So far, Yaxley said, only one confirmed case has been found among the displaced population. However, he warned this could rapidly worsen.
He noted most of the 2.6 million displaced Somalis live in overcrowded settlements where social distancing is almost impossible. He said there is scarcely enough clean water for drinking, let alone handwashing.
The UNHCR reports the country’s fragile health system in unable to respond to a rapidly spreading pandemic. The agency recently appealed for $745 million to protect and assist displaced populations around the world from COVID-19. Some of that money, it says, is desperately needed to prevent the disease from ravaging Somalia.