Massive displacement of civilians in the escalating conflict in Somalia this year has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in a country already reeling from years of civil strife and natural disasters, aid agencies said in their appeal for US$406 million to fund life-saving assistance and protection for more than 1.5 million people in 2008.
Fighting between forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is backed by Ethiopian troops, and insurgents, intensified in Mogadishu in early 2007. The capital has witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence, since Somalia descended into factional warfare after the overthrow in 1991 of the regime headed by the late Muhammad Siad Barre.
An estimated 600,000 people have fled Mogadishu because of the violence and most have been forced to live in squalid settlements outside the city with little or no food, water, shelter or medical care.
"We are confronted with a new crisis combined with an acute chronic humanitarian crisis," said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia, at the launch of the 2008 Consolidated Appeal for Somalia.
The renewed unrest had added to the misery of people hit by drought, floods, poor harvest, malnutrition and disease, especially in areas where internally displaced people from Mogadishu have sought refuge, according to the appeal document.
"An estimated 83,000 children [excluding those in displaced families] are moderately or severely malnourished in south/central Somalia. These children are at increased risk of death in a country where, already, one in 12 children will die before his or her first birthday and one in seven will die before reaching the age of five," humanitarian agencies said.
Problems of access have compounded the severity of the crisis in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu and surrounding areas. Humanitarian workers have had to contend with extortion, piracy, illegal taxation by armed groups, harassment and the threat of roadside bombs.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has been providing medical and nutritional care to internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the town of Afgoye, about 30km south of Mogadishu, said mortality rates were worrying.
"In Hawa Abdi, a camp with 32,000 IDPs, where humanitarian assistance is available, the mortality rate of children under five is more than twice the emergency threshold - 4.2 deaths per 10,000 people per day, and the global mortality rate is 2.3 deaths per 10,000 people per day. Diarrhoea is the main cause of death in the camp (over 50 percent) due to disastrous sanitary conditions," according to an MSF statement.
Somalia's newly appointed Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, better known as Nur Ade, promised that his government would facilitate the work of relief agencies, while urging them to respect the rules and regulations of the country. He also urged the broadening of the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia to include helping to deliver humanitarian aid.
Other priorities of humanitarian agencies in Somalia in 2008 include protection of civilians, promotion of human rights, especially among vulnerable groups, including IDPs and children, and strengthening the capacity of local groups to provide social services and respond to disasters.
Eric Laroche, outgoing UN resident humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said he was optimistic that the 2008 appeal would receive a generous response.
"There is no doubt that the profile [in the international community] of Somalia has been rising a lot in the last six to 12 months," he said. Failing to respond to the needs of the deprived people of Somalia could lead to undesirable consequences, such as young people resorting to acts of terrorism, he added.
Donors provided about 70 percent of the estimated $260 million appeal for Somalia in 2007.