NAIROBI, 29 November 2011 (IRIN) - Resettlement of tens of thousands of drought-displaced Somalis, most of whom had sought refuge in the capital, Mogadishu, is under way, with aid agencies organizing voluntary returns to several areas in southern Somalia, officials told IRIN.
"We started a project to resettle some 4,000 families [24,000 people] back to their homes in time for them to take advantage of what is left of the rainy season," said Mohamed Abdullahi Hussein, the director of the United Arab Emirates-Red Crescent Society (UAE-RCS) in Somalia.
Hussein said the agency was providing the returnees with food to last three months, shelter material and between US$100 and $150 per family.
The returns are voluntary, with most going to Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia, Hussein added.
Abdullahi Shirwa, head of Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), said it was the government's policy to resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs). "It is not realistic to maintain hundreds of thousands people in overcrowded IDP camps indefinitely. So the best option is to help return those willing to do so to their home areas."
Shirwa said NDMA had scheduled a meeting this week with aid agencies in Mogadishu to organize a programme of resettlement.
"We basically want to see who can do what," he said. "There are agencies that can provide the food; others can provide the transportation, while others can provide shelter material or cash incentives."
Since UAE-RCS began the return process in November, some 460 drought-displaced families have gone home.
"On 28 November we repatriated 261 families [1,566 people] back to Bay region," said Abubakar Sheikh Bashir, team leader for the UAE-RCS resettlement project.
He said many of the returnees, mostly farmers, were eager to take advantage of the best rains in three years "and restart their lives".
Bashir said many families have already returned on their own, "while others sent back the able-bodied and left behind the elderly, the women and children".
Bishaaro Haji Alin, 45, lost four of her nine children in the drought that devastated her home area in Buur Hakaba in Bay region.
"I was here in the camp for the last six months; if we did not come here I could have lost all of my children," Alin told IRIN by telephone, as she boarded a truck back home.
Alin said she was eager to start planting. "My children are fine and we want to go back to where we belong. We got help here but it is not home."
Home for Alin and her family, along with some 10,000 families, had been the sprawling Tribunka camp, the largest in Mogadishu.
Shirwa of the NDMA said the key to resettling the drought-displaced IDPs was to provide them with enough support to allow them to restart their lives.
"Most of the displaced are agro-pastoralists and so it is not enough to say we will give them food until the next harvest; we need to provide them also with some pack animals and maybe two or three cows or whatever animals they had before," Shirwa said, adding "that will not only empower them but help them start afresh."