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Humanitarian Groups Plead for Help in Somalia Crisis


About 40 international aid groups have issued a joint appeal to the international community about the growing humanitarian crisis in Somalia. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, the groups say that security has gotten so bad that their aid work has been all but frozen and some people are dying of starvation.

The appeal from aid groups around the world followed the U.N. refugee agency announcement that 35,000 people fled new fighting between Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian troops during the weekend in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Thousands more fled in subsequent days.

About 400,000 people were believed to have fled after three months of fighting that began when Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December to back the weak Transitional Federal Government and oust the Union of Islamic Courts.

In their statement, the aid groups say that about 335,000 people in the Mogadishu and Shabelle areas are in immediate need of help just to survive. But they say there is little they can do because security is getting worse as the displaced people's needs increase.

Tony Burns is the operations director of SAACID Australia, which joined the statement. He said that his organization has been able to continue work through its local branch but that the situation is dire.

"We can confirm cases in and around Mogadishu of deaths through starvation now, that is occurring," he said. "The situation is only going to get worse. The food that is coming in is inadequate to meet the needs at the moment. The recent fighting has subsided momentarily, but the population within the city are very frightened and are very worried about the future."

Burns says there could be some relief in terms of food aid within weeks because the World Food Program and other agencies have asked the international community to send more food. But he says the time lag between the request and the delivery of food aid is making people vulnerable.

Aid groups say the situation is getting to be nearly as bad as it was in the time of greatest chaos following dictator Mohammed Siad Barre's ouster in 1991. They also warn that because of the continued instability, Somalia could see a full-blown clan civil war in the coming months.

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