War sinks its teeth ever deeper into Somalia: The world is still averting its gaze from its most savage conflict, writes Richard Dowden

THE WARNINGS of catastrophe went unheeded. The rest of the world took no interest. Somalia tore itself to pieces. This woman and child outside a makeshift hospital at Merca, on the coast, are among the luckier people who have made it to a place where there is food, water and medical care.

Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands have died either directly or indirectly from civil war in Somalia in the past two years. It is the worst human catastrophe in the world, worse than Yugoslavia. Even now, five months after a signed ceasefire, Digfer Hospital in Mogadishu is receiving 30 or 40 people a day suffering from bullet wounds.

Andrew Natsios of the United States Agency for International Development estimates 2,000 people are dying each day in and around the capital city, Mogadishu. The city has become one huge feeding centre but, according to aid workers, the food is not reaching the groups in most need because of banditry, looting and corruption.

'The idea was to get as much food into the city as possible so that the price would fall and the aid agencies could then target the vulnerable groups,' David Shearer of Save the Children Fund in Mogadishu said. 'But there is so much extortion . . . bribery and theft that it is impossible. The food is not reaching the people who need it.'

There were hopes that other parts of the country might survive war and drought better than the capital, but these have recently been shattered. In Baidoa, 150 miles from Mogadishu, the Red Cross estimates that 7,000 out of the town's 40,000 people have died so far this year from starvation. Peasant farmers were driven from their fields.

Somalia is also suffering from severe drought, which led to famine, but the war has prevented the distribution of food aid. One in six Somalis are now displaced, either in gruesome refugee camps in Kenya or squatting in the barren Somali countryside searching for something to eat. The Red Cross estimates that 2 million out of the total population of about 8 million are facing starvation and that many of those are in inaccessible places.

Mogadishu is a battleground of two armies, one led by General Mohammed Farah Aideed, who fought a guerrilla war to overthrow the old dictator Siad Barre, and the other by Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who was declared interim president after Mr Barre fled in January last year. The struggle is partly between these two men and partly between their sub-clans. Both are members of the Hawiye clan but General Aideed is from the Habar Gadir sub-clan and Ali Mahdi is Abgal.

The traditional systems of settling inter-clan disputes have all failed. The two armies are ill-disciplined and the city, like most of southern Somalia, is at the mercy of gangs of gunmen who take whatever they want and kill whoever stands in their way. The feeding centres run by the Red Cross - some 400 of them throughout the country - and those run by other aid agencies provide the only sanctuaries in the country.

On Thursday, 18 months after central authority collapsed, the United Nations arrived in the form of 47 unarmed military observers who are to monitor a ceasefire signed five months ago. The Hercules transport plane that finally brought in the UN troops was delayed by bureacratic bungling in Kenya and then got stuck in the soft sand at the end of the runway. The troops are supposed to deploy to each side of the city but no one, not even the Red Cross, travels in Somalia without armed protection. The possibility of bringing UN peace monitors into Mogadishu was first mooted at the beginning of the year and was agreed after lengthy negotiations. Their deployment was postponed for two weeks after Ali Mahdi allegedly used a plane bearing the UN emblem to fly ammunition and money to Mogadishu from Nairobi. It appeared that a Russian Antonov-32, chartered for UN relief flights to Mogadishu, had been used to fly tons of Somali banknotes printed in Britain to Ali Mahdi for paying his troops. General Aideed accused the UN of complicity but dropped his objections after the UN denied involvement and Ali Mahdi agreed to stop disbursing the money.

The Red Cross, one of the few aid agencies to keep its staff in Mogadishu throughout the war, is spending more than a quarter of its total dollars 500m (pounds 260m) aid budget on Somalia this year. It is feeding about 500,000 people each day throughout the country. Four of its staff members have been killed and several others injured. The British government this week gave pounds 2.5m to the Red Cross appeal for medical supplies, plastic sheeting and tents.

More than 250 Somali refugees who reached the Kenyan port of Mombasa in a Jamaican-registered cargo ship on Friday were denied permission to disembark yesterday. The provincial commissioner was reported to have said the nearby refugee camp that houses 25,618 of the nearly 156,000 Somali refugees in Kenya was too congested.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reception Teacher

£21588 - £31552 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: YEAR 1 TEACHER - FUL...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted have said "Good te...

Advertising and Marketing Communications Manager

£52000 - £58000 per annum + benefits, company car: Ashdown Group: Advertising ...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor