May 15, 2009 / 1:44 PM / 11 years ago

Aid groups warn of worsening situation in Somalia

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Aid organisations warned on Thursday that Somalia’s worst fighting in months was aggravating an already dire humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa state, and joined world powers in condemning the violence.

Civilians flee from renewed clashes between Somali government forces and hard-line Islamist militants in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, May 12, 2009. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Somalia’s 18 years of anarchy has left millions displaced, killed tens of thousands and created one of the world’s worst aid crises. Attacks on relief workers, extortion and regular clashes have hampered groups trying to work there.

“In the midst of an already existing catastrophe, reports of continued fighting, civilian deaths, including women and children, are extremely worrying,” said Andrea Pattison, spokeswoman for the charity Oxfam.

Since late last week, clashes between militant al Shabaab fighters and pro-government forces have killed more than 113 civilians in the Somali capital and sent 27,000 others fleeing.

A respite from more than a decade of violence following a takeover by the Islamic Courts Union in 2006 was short-lived, and battles erupted again when Ethiopian tanks and troops crushed the sharia courts movement later that year.

An Islamist-led insurgency since early 2007 has killed some 17,700 people and wounded almost 30,000 others, worsening the humanitarian crisis for Somalis, who have lived without effective central rule since the 1991 ousting of a dictator.

“The people of Somalia have once again been subjected to unbearable violence,” said Pascal Mauchle, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Somalia delegation.

“The daily struggle for survival is exhausting their capacity to cope. After almost two decades of armed conflict they yearn desperately for security and a stable environment.”

Aid agencies fear renewed clashes in Mogadishu will only complicate access to thousands of civilians fleeing the city.

Somalia is also facing the worst drought in a decade, the United Nations said. Some 3.2 million Somalis need food aid of an estimated 19 million in the region, the world body said.

Poor security has forced the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) to seek security guarantees from al Shabaab, a militant group which the United States says has links to al Qaeda, and other groups controlling areas where the aid agency operates.

“We talk with them to negotiate basically, the access for our staff and ultimately for our food into this or through that area,” said Peter Goossens, WFP Somalia Country Director.

“That is an almost routine business and whether they are al Shabaab commanders or Shabaab authority or whether they are some other faction or some other group it really doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s say on a six-month period, the possibility of 1.5 million or more will, in fact, perish is very, very real and therefore we really need to continue supporting this population,” he told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Njuwa Maina in Djibouti

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