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Aid Groups Say Violence Prevents Them from Reaching Parts of Somalia

International aid agencies are expressing frustration and alarm at their lack of access to several needy regions of Somalia because of continuing insecurity. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports.

The spokeswoman for the Office of U.N.'s Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs in Nairobi says access to towns and villages in some parts of south-central Somalia has improved dramatically since January.

That is when Somali government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, defeated the country's powerful Islamist movement and drove its leaders out of power.

But the OCHA spokeswoman, Amanda Di Lorenzo, tells VOA that the worsening security situation in other parts of Somalia, where humanitarian needs are the greatest, has limited humanitarian access to a critical level.

"We now have access to locations that we have not had for a long time - for example to Galkaayo in central Somalia," she said. "In south central, there has been some improvement in access to areas that we were unable to access before, either because of the seasonal flooding of roads or the conflict itself. But areas, such as the Lower and Middle Juba, remain a concern to us."

Earlier last year, much of southern Somalia, stretching west to the Kenyan border and northeast to Mogadishu, suffered a crippling drought and then severe flooding, which killed scores of people and left tens of thousands homeless.

At the height of the conflict between the Islamist militia and the government's Ethiopian-backed troops in December, Kenya closed its border with Somalia for security reasons. The border closure has slowed overland transport of humanitarian supplies from Kenya to a trickle.

Access by air has also been restricted. The airport in Kismayo, a key hub for delivering humanitarian supplies to Lower and Middle Juba region, remain closed to humanitarian flights because of on-going military operations in the area.

Meanwhile, the main seaport and airport in the capital, Mogadishu, have become prime targets of insurgents opposed to the interim government and its Ethiopian allies. Violence has hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to people enduring near daily attacks there.

Now, a deadly viral disease called Rift Valley Fever that affects domestic animals and humans, is threatening to spread from Kenya into Somalia.

Aid agencies are warning that unless emergency assistance and supplies are increased immediately, a serious humanitarian crisis could develop in the country.

Said Warsame, an information officer with the U.N.'s World Food Program Somalia, said, "We need security to reach the people. We need to move food from the port of entry to where the people are. So, whenever there is some security incident, that prevents us."

In an effort to stabilize the country, the African Union is planning to deploy several thousand peacekeepers in Somalia. The first contingent of Ugandan troops is expected in Mogadishu within days.

But on Wednesday, a militant Islamist insurgent group renewed its threat to fight any foreign troops sent into the country.