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Red Cross Stepping Up Aid to Somalia


The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is significantly stepping up its humanitarian operation in Somalia to respond to the deepening crisis there. It says hundreds of thousands of Somalis face life-threatening food and water shortages due to escalating fighting and severe drought in the central part of the country. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross calls this the worst tragedy in the past decade. It says Somalis have been hit by a number of unfortunate events and these factors have combined to make their lives a misery.

Red Cross Spokeswoman, Anna Schaaf tells VOA many people have been forced to flee their homes due to a recent escalation of fighting, adding to the already large numbers of internally displaced.

She says hundreds of thousands of people are going hungry. They also lack water because of the drought that has robbed people of rainfall for the past two years.

"In addition to these factors, there is a very high inflation rate and the worldwide rise in commodity prices, especially for key imports such as fuel and food are very much aggravating the situation today," said Schaaf.

"The fact is also that the fighting that is escalaing in Mogadishu, but also in other towns inside Somalia in recent weeks, have displaced even more people. And, these people really do not have any strength anymore to be able to cope with the situation," she continued.

Schaaf says people are completely exhausted from the non-stop struggle to survive in the past weeks and months.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports many civilians have been wounded or killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. It says the majority of the displaced people now are living in the open or in makeshift camps, far from any medical facilities.

Schaaf says conditions in these squalid, overcrowded camps are deplorable.

"Those who are living on the outskirts of Mogadishu are living in a place that is really burnt from the sun," she said. "There are not many trees around, there is not much shade and it is very hot."

"And, these people have just tried with what they had to build small huts. So, some of them have just used rugs they had. Some of them had actually received tarpaulins from humanitarian organizations and were able, together with sticks and pieces of wood they could just find alongside the road, make their own little huts," she added.

The Red Cross says the worsening security situation and extremely fragile economy are making it increasingly difficult for many rural communities to survive. Because of the drought, it says food shortages are severe and livestock are weakening from lack of grazing land.

The agency says it is increasing its aid to include half a million people. It says it will distribute four months worth of dry-food rations, as well as water and relief goods including household items and shelter materials.

Red Cross Officials say they will be increasing support for medical and health facilities in the country.