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The ‘Irreversibles’ - Somalia Town Punished by Famine and Fighting

October 22, 1992

BARDERA, Somalia (AP) _ In this town punished by fighting and famine, the delicate chain that keeps food flowing to Somalia’s starving has snapped.

Under the midday sun, the hungry lay wrapped in blankets in shady spots along the street. Relief officials who had struggled to bring the daily death toll to about 10 say it has risen again to the 70 a day it was two months ago.

Aid officials took journalists to the town 180 miles west of the capital, Mogadishu, on Wednesday.

Carl Howorth, an official of CARE International, gestured toward children in one family and said sadly: ″These are irreversibles″ - too malnourished to survive.

They were the children of Abdullah Hamud, who arrived in Bardera two days earlier after walking six days from his farming village in search of food, only to find aid operations disrupted by a recent battle in which control of the key feeding center changed hands.

Hamud had nine children with him and said two others had died on the way.

″Before we would die, we decided we would try to get here,″ he said.

Howorth said relief operations had to be renewed in Bardera despite opposition from some of the clans whose warfare has exacerbated the impact of drought.

On Oct. 13, forces loyal to ousted dictator Mohammed Siad Barre drove the fighters of Somalia’s chief warlord, Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, from Bardera.

Bardera was not devastated in the battle. But food distribution, which is wrapped up in the politics of clan warfare, has broken down.

Aidid, who claims control of much of the rest of the country’s south of Bardera, said in Mogadishu last week that he was advising relief workers against going to the town because his forces were trying to recapture it.

There was no fighting Wednesday in Bardera, and Siad Barre’s guerrillas said the front line was 17 miles to the east.

Even before the Oct. 13 battle, Bardera was among the hardest hit areas in the famine that has killed more than 100,000 people in Somalia this year.

Somali employees of international relief agencies continued to operate at least one feeding center in the town after expatriate aid workers were evacuated because of the fighting. But they said they served their last food Wednesday morning.

Relief officials expect to air drop nearly 9 tons of food into the town Thursday, but that would be only a small step toward renewing regular food distribution.

There are only three usable trucks in Bardera to carry food from the airport to the town. The trucks’ owners were arguing with relief officials about the price for hauling food supplies.

The aid effort has been plagued by such incidents, as well as by more serious problems, such as looting.

E.K. Krishnan, the CARE official in charge of Somalia, said he hoped the organization could reopen its operation in Bardera, but added he was worried about security for relief workers.

Before the Oct. 13 battle, Bardera’s population had swollen to 40,000, twice its normal size, as refugees from surrounding areas came seeking food. When the feeding operation was working full scale, about 20 people still were dying each day from starvation or related diseases.

Now, relief officials say, about 18,000 people remain in the town and nearby displaced persons camps.

Dr. Abdul Khadi, a Somali physician who came in with Siad Barre’s forces, said he found 500 or 600 townspeople who were ″not even human, they are walking skeletons.″

Nine bodies were reported found on the street Wednesday morning. Another body lay under a table in the market, where it had been three days because people feared contracting disease if they moved it. It was swarming with flies.

About 40 people were in the town’s hospital, many looking close to death. A doctor pointed to one young boy and said he probably would die within hours.

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