MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — At least 14 people, most of them civilians, were killed Friday as soldiers clashed over food aid in drought-ravaged Somalia’s southwestern city of Baidoa, where tens of thousands of people have streamed in seeking assistance.
The fighting broke out at a distribution site after some soldiers tried to steal food sacks meant for displaced people and other soldiers guarding the aid stopped them, said police Col. Isaq Hassan.
At least 20 people were injured. Some were in critical condition, a nurse at Baidoa’s main hospital, Mohamed Ahmed, told The Associated Press.
Somalia is one of four countries singled out by the United Nations in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. The U.N. has said that together they make up the world’s largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years.
Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing to Baidoa and other Somali cities in search of food and support, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. More than half a million people across the country have been displaced.
Baidoa now hosts one of the largest populations of displaced people, with more than 142,000 recorded as of mid-May, according to the International Organization for Migration. The majority of those displaced in Baidoa are children and teens.
“Every single person we have seen is a personal story of tremendous suffering. There is no way to describe it,” a visibly shocked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a visit in March to Baidoa, where he saw skeletal men, women and children in a cholera ward. The disease has been a problem with the shortage of clean water.
Drought-stricken families often have to move from one place to another to reach aid agencies that cannot distribute food in areas under the control of al-Shabab, Somalia’s homegrown Islamic extremist group that is affiliated to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016.