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UN Envoy Calls Attention to Somalia Humanitarian Crisis

The U.N. Special Humanitarian Envoy appealed for increased attention to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, following a trip to the country. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, humanitarian agencies are warning of an alarming rise in the need for humanitarian assistance in Somalia.

The U.N. Special Humanitarian Envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban on Wednesday visited south-central Somalia, one of the areas worst affected by the humanitarian crisis, as well as a refugee camp on the Kenyan side of the border with Somalia

"What I saw is really a humanitarian crisis," Arrukban said. "The little food that was available was extremely expensive. In the local markets, one egg costs around 5,000 Somali shillings, it is a five-times increase from the beginning of the year."

His visit came as the Food Security Analysis Unit of Somalia, an organization managed the World Food Program, released new figures on the humanitarian situation in Somalia, which it calls one of the worst in the world.

The organization's chief technical advisor, Cindy Holleman, described the situation.

"The scale and the magnitude and the speed at which the humanitarian crisis right now is deteriorating is very alarming and very profound," Holleman said. "Just from the beginning of this year, the number of people in humanitarian crisis has increased 77 percent. That is going from 1.8 million people to more than 3.2 million people.

She said malnutrition rates are increasing across the country, even in the north, which has generally been less affected.

According to the group's assessment, massive inflation has been a major driver of the crisis. Spurred on by excessive printing of new bills, food prices have increased by 700 percent in the past year. The problem is compounded by continued drought in the country.

Most importantly, Somalia, unlike many other countries coping with rising global food prices, also faces rampant insecurity. The conflict in Somalia has grown more severe in recent months, as a weak transitional government struggles to contain a growing Islamist-led insurgency.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, described the challenges of providing assistance in the country, and called on donor government to step up their support.

"The cost of doing work in Somalia is becoming higher and higher because of that. We have to invest, tragically, in the security of our staff and also the security of all humanitarian workers in there to be able to deliver more effectively. And this comes at a cost," Bowden said. "And it is that cost which is rarely met by the donor community."

Attacks on and abductions of aid workers have been a growing concern on the ground in Somalia, and delivery of aid by sea has been discouraged by growing piracy of the Somali coast.

In a rare piece of good news, the U.N. refugee agency announced that its top official in Somalia, Hassan Mohammed Ali, was released Wednesday. He was abducted near Mogadishu more than two months ago.