United Nations officials say more than 100,000 people are displaced in central Somalia following days of fighting between the government forces and a group opposing the region's local administration.
The clashes that began last week in Gurieel town in Somalia's Galmudug federal state are reported to have killed at least 120 people, most of them soldiers or fighters.
The fighting is between government forces and their former ally, Islamist group Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a. Gurieel is the second largest town in Galmudug state and both sides want control of the town ahead of parliamentary elections.
Speaking at a virtual conference Tuesday, James Swan, the U.N. representative in Somalia, called for an end to the fighting.
"We are concerned that this is a distraction from other critical priorities, namely the completion of the electoral process and a continuation of the fight against al-Shabab," Swan said. "As a consequence, we would certainly welcome efforts by the parties to this conflict to pause on the ongoing hostilities and explore opportunities for talks or dialogue that might allow for peaceful resolution of the situation without further suffering of the people."
Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF's country representative in Somalia, says the aid agencies are struggling to provide humanitarian assistance to the population in the area.
"Our assessment so far has shown that 20,000 households have been displaced and that's more than 100,000 people," he said. "The problem is that getting access to people with the service we can offer at the time is extremely complicated and difficult. So as we speak, we on the ground, we have partners trying to provide the services in terms of water and sanitation, hygiene but also food."
The aid agencies said health centers have been damaged in the conflict, reducing people's ability to access health care.
The U.N. also said a local humanitarian organization was targeted while doing their work, and one of its workers was killed.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 7.7 million Somalis will be in need of assistance in 2022, as conflict, unpredictable weather patterns and diseases continue to disrupt people's lives.
In recent months, Somalia has been locked in political crisis due to delays in elections, caused by threats from al-Shabab militants and disagreements over the process.
Swan says the postponements contribute to the overall state of distress in the country.
"These delayed elections are occupying such a central place in the attention of the leadership of the country at this time that, unfortunately, it is causing other critical priorities to be deferred," he said. "We can look across the board at the development agenda, additional work to be done in the security sector. We can look at longer-term state-building priorities around the constitution, around establishing the rule of law institutions, judicial institutions."
In hopes of ending the Galmudug conflict, Somali opposition groups have urged the government to stop sending reinforcement troops to the town.
Source: Voice of America