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Conditions Continue to Worsen in Somalia

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the humanitarian situation in Somalia continues to worsen. It says a year of relentless conflict and several natural disasters have taken a heavy toll on the population. A Red Cross Official tells VOA the situation is particularly desperate in the capital Mogadishu, which has been the scene of repeated fighting.

The United Nations estimates around 600,000 people this year have fled fighting in Mogadishu between insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces.

But many people remain trapped in the capital. Red Cross spokeswoman, Anna Schaff, tells VOA the extent of the emergency can be seen in the massive increase in medical needs in Mogadishu. She says the number of war wounded keeps growing.

"The main concern is that this year there have been about 4,000 patients treated already at the hospitals in Mogadishu that we are supporting, and this figure is actually double of the patients we treated last year," said Schaff.

"Also, those who are wounded have difficult access to medical facilities. The ICRC is supporting two hospitals in Mogadishu but the worse is that the population, it is very difficult for the population to access the medical facilities," she continued.

Schaff says one third of this year's patients were women or children under age 15. Also, during 2007, she says the number of surgeries in the two hospitals increased by 62 percent over the preceding year. In addition to medical services, Schaff says the Red Cross has been providing assistance to people forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.

"During the whole year, for example, we have assisted over 800,000 people with essential household items," said Schaff. "That is in different areas of Somalia in the south as well as in the center and the areas around Mogadishu."

"We also gave food rations in 2007 to over 230,000 people who were forced to flee Mogadishu. We are also providing drinking water. This year in 2007, around 21 million liters of water were distributed to those who had to flee," she added.

Red Cross officials say they are worried about how the humanitarian situation in Somalia is going to play out. Besides the continuing conflict, they say there is the threat of possible flooding and drought.

They say they have no idea when the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Mogadishu will decide to return home. Until then, they say, the strain on the displaced and on the communities that have taken them in will remain huge.