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Relief Groups Warn of Worsening Humanitarian Situation in Somalia

By Derek Kilner
26 March 2008

A total of 40 international humanitarian organizations have issued a statement warning of the worsening humanitarian situation in Somalia and appealing for increased attention from the international community. The appeal comes ahead of a planned discussion of Somalia by United Nations Security Council members. Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

The agencies, which include Oxfam, Save the Children, and Care, say more than 1 million people are displaced in Somalia, with 20,000 more fleeing the capital, Mogadishu, every month.

The United Nations has called Somalia the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, worse than in the higher-profile Sudanese Darfur region. The U.N. humanitarian office has said that the access that relief agencies have to the country's population has never been as restricted as it is today.

Verity Johnson, regional policy and advocacy coordinator for Oxfam's Nairobi office, described the challenges aid groups face in Somalia.

"There's general insecurity," she said. "There are administrative delays. There's restrictions or delays in movement of goods. But, in particular in the last couple of months, we've seen targeting of humanitarian workers and their assets, looting of aid, carjackings, piracy, roadblocks. All of these lead into an environment which makes it very difficult for aid agencies to do their job."

The aid groups are calling on the international community to step up its response in Somalia by putting more effort into reaching a political agreement and improving security conditions for humanitarian operations.

"As aid agencies, what we do is try to help people in need and what we're trying to bring attention to is the fact that we're unable to do that in the current circumstances," she added. "So we're calling on those with the power to address that situation to engage more to allow us to do our job."

Members of the U.N. Security Council are set to discuss Somalia this week. In a report delivered to the council last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon raised the possibility of deploying a peacekeeping force of as many as 27,000 soldiers. But the report acknowledged such a move would require a peace agreement of some sort and the deployment of a smaller interim international force to replace the Ethiopian troops currently in the country.

The current African Union force - with 2,600 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi - is widely seen as inadequate to control the violence.

Ethiopian troops backing the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government have been battling a growing Islamist insurgency based in Mogadishu since January 2007. The government and Ethiopians ousted the Islamic Courts Union from control of the capital in December 2006. However, they have been unable to enforce security and opposition to the Ethiopian presence has grown.

At least six people were killed in the latest round of fighting in the southern town, Jowhar, near Mogadishu, Wednesday.

The aid agencies also warn the threat of food and water shortages is only likely to increase in the coming months, with the rainfall that usually comes between April and June expected to fall this year.

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