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War, Drought Push Somalis to Breaking Point


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it is deeply concerned about the plight of civilians caught up in Somalia's endless war. It says problems caused by fighting are compounded by a series of natural disasters, which are pushing people to the breaking point. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The United Nations estimates more than one million people in Somalia have been forced to flee their homes because of war and drought.

A Spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Carla Haddad, tells VOA civilians are suffering from a combination of successive disasters. She says poor rainfall, poor harvest and continuous waves of fighting are making it increasingly difficult for people to cope.

"It just does not stop," she said. "It is relentless and this has created a humanitarian crisis. So, people are being pushed really to the very limits of their endurance. Their living conditions, according to our staff there, are shocking. And, when you think that it is difficult to assist them because of insecurity and because of the conflict, things become bleak and the prospects are gloomy."

In the latest escalation of fighting, the leader of the military wing of an Islamist insurgent group was killed in an overnight air strike. The military commander of al-Shabab, Aden Hashi Ayro, died when his home in the central town of Dusamareb was bombed.

Haddad says civilians are among the major victims of Somalia's ongoing war.

"Recently, the weapon wounded people who have suffered because of the conflict are increasing," she added. "And, surgeons are often required to perform operations around the clock. So, we rely on the people who are working there. It is very difficult. But, recently, and since the beginning of 2008, the two hospitals we support have treated over 1,000 wounded and many women are amongst them and children."

Somalia is the Red Cross' seventh-largest humanitarian operation. Besides protection and medical care for the civilian population, aid workers provide basic, life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.

Since late January, Haddad says the ICRC has been transporting more than two million liters of water by road every day to nearly 500,000 people in more than 400 locations. She says the Red Cross also distributes food, household and other relief supplies to thousands of displaced people.

She says insecurity makes it dangerous and often impossible for aid workers to deliver the goods. Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991.

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