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NGOs Call for More International Attention to Somalia Crisis

A group of more than 50 organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Somalia called for increased international attention to the situation in the country. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the groups assert that nearly half the country's population is now in need of emergency aid.

The groups, which include international organizations like CARE, Save the Children, and World Vision, as well as Somali NGOs, said in a statement that more than 3.2 million people require emergency assistance, a figure that represents a rise of 77 percent since the beginning of 2008.

The statement warned that the situation is likely to continue to deteriorate in the coming months. Andrea Pattison, a spokesperson for Oxfam, one of the groups issuing the statement, spoke to VOA from Nairobi.

"A combination of drought that's spreading throughout the country, extreme insecurity that's getting worse, and also hyper inflation which is pricing many of the poorest Somalis out of the kind of basics that they need, food, shelter, water, etcetera," said Pattison.

The groups also warned that humanitarian organizations are increasingly becoming targets in the conflict.

"The threats to aid workers have increased substantially over the last nine months, and those threats include assassinations, kidnappings, threats to our assets, for example looting of aid, carjacking," added Pattison. "It's actually affecting our ability to access Somalis on the ground who need our help."

According to the statement, 24 aid workers, 20 of them Somali nationals, have been killed since the start of the year, and 10 more have been abducted.

The appeal follows comments last week from a leader of the radical Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab warning international humanitarian agencies not to interfere in the country. That statement singled out CARE and the International Medical Corps by name.

In a statement issued in response, CARE's country director for Somalia said the threats put the organizations operations in the country at risk.

Fighting between insurgent groups and Ethiopian-backed government forces has been particularly severe in recent weeks, and there has also been a rise in attacks on African Union peacekeepers. The humanitarian groups said 37,000 civilians have been displaced by the recent fighting, bringing the number displaced this year to some 870,000 and the total number displaced to 1.1 million.

The groups also said the international community "has completely failed Somali civilians". The statement called for increased international attention to the conflict, but did not offer any specific recommendations.

About 2,600 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are currently in Somalia. The AU has asked the United Nations to take over peacekeeping duties, but there is little indication that the UN has any interest in doing so in the current security environment.