Monday, December 10, 2007

UN seeks aid for Somalia, Sudan refugees

from The Kansas City Star

Associated Press Writer

The U.N. humanitarian chief warned that terrible atrocities and urban warfare were engulfing Somalia's capital and called for a large increase in aid to handle a burgeoning population of refugees fleeing Mogadishu.

Undersecretary-General John Holmes also painted a grim picture of conditions for millions of people uprooted across the Somali border in Ethiopia's Ogaden province - which faces possible famine - and in Sudan's Darfur region, where violence continues.

In Somalia, he said, the U.N. estimates that more than half of the population of the capital, Mogadishu, - about 600,000 people - have fled an upsurge in violence and intimidation.

Holmes said 230,000 are now living along a 9-mile stretch of road between the capital, Mogadishu, and the town of Afgooye, which probably constitutes the single largest gathering of displaced people in the world today.

He told the U.N. Security Council that he drove along the road where over 70 makeshift camps have mushroomed and met many people who fled with only the clothes on their backs.

"I fear, on the basis of what I heard, that increasingly terrible things are now happening in Mogadishu, as it descends into the nightmare of urban guerrilla warfare and reciprocal atrocities," Holmes said.

He appealed for humanitarian organizations to step up their presence and said at least $400 million will be needed in 2008, up from $300 million this year, to help some 1.5 million people in need. But he stressed that "a robust humanitarian response cannot make up for the absence of desperately needed political and security progress."

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken Horn of Africa nation into chaos. The weak U.N.-backed transitional government, with help from neighboring Ethiopia, has been battling a ferocious Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year.

In the eastern Ethiopian region of Ogaden, where a low-level insurgency has escalated, there are fears "that already chronic food insecurity could give way to real famine conditions for a significant part of the 4.5 million population," Holmes said.

He said "a disaster could unfold with frightening speed" if steps weren't taken in the next few months to improve conditions.

Holmes cited limits on commercial traffic across the Somali border into the Ogaden, in part because of government concerns about arms smuggling, a poor rainy season, and difficulties in delivering food aid because of the insecurity and restricted access.

He said it is currently estimated that 950,000 people need 53,000 tons of food in the next three months, but the process of moving the first 9,000 tons to district capitals has only just been completed.

While the government believes claims of major humanitarian problems are exaggerated, Holmes said Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi "assured me that all necessary steps would be taken to avoid any famine."

In Darfur, Holmes said, some 13,300 relief workers are assisting 4.2 million people affected by the conflict, including 2.4 million displaced, "but the situation is gradually deteriorating, and the operation in many ways remains fragile."

Holmes said more humanitarian aid is needed and he will appeal for $825 million for 2008.

Holmes said nearly 280,000 additional people were forced to flee the violence this year to already overflowing camps or to the bush, which has led to increasing malnutrition in several areas of Darfur.

In Adilla, in eastern Darfur, he added, one medical clinic reported 183 cases of sexually transmitted infections in September, including 40 cases in children under five years old.

"Continuing hostilities and the unpredictable security situation are the greatest obstacles to access," Holmes said. "But there is also justified concern over the refusal of national authorities to allow access in certain areas, for example, Adilla and Jebel Marra, where there are tens of thousands of civilians in severe need."

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