Humanitarian plight worsens in Somalia

April 13, 2008 - 0:0

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating with the number of people in need of emergency aid reaching nearly a half million, the UN humanitarian office said Friday.

The poverty-stricken nation of 7 million has been mired in chaos since clan-based warlords toppled a dictatorship in 1991 and then turned on each other. Adding to its woes, a weak UN-backed transitional government is struggling to quash an Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Somalia's plight has been deteriorating recently and listed three key factors: an extremely harsh dry season, rising insecurity and increasing high inflation rates.
The office, known as OCHA, said the Somalians who need emergency assistance -- mainly food and water -- has grown to 425,000. It said it based its findings on two U.S.-funded groups that monitor food security: the Kenyan-based Food Security Analysis Unit and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
The two also reported that the number of newly displaced people in Somalia has reached nearly 750,000, the UN office said.
OCHA said the deteriorating security situation is slowing the delivery of humanitarian aid and affecting the ability of aid agencies to help people.
In some parts of the country, the price of maize and sorghum has increased up to 400 percent in the last 12 months, and the price of imported food including rice and vegetable oil has gone up 150 percent, OCHA said. The price hikes come as the Somali shilling depreciated by an average of 65 percent, it said.
The UN office also reported an outbreak of acute diarrhea in some areas in the north caused by contaminated underground water, with 300 cases and seven deaths since early March. Diarrhea is spreading and health authorities aren't able to deal with the caseload because of limited staff, it said.
""The situation in Somalia is part of the continuation of unusually dry conditions in the Horn of Africa in general ... which are further aggravating food insecurity, water and pasture shortages and outbreaks of drought associated diseases,"" OCHA said.
But OCHA warned that the ""full-blown impact of a drought"" will be felt in certain areas of the greater Horn of Africa in July and August, according to food security analysts and weather forecasters.