Large numbers of families displaced by violence in Somalia are surviving on less than one meal a day and spending large proportions of their meagre income buying drinking water, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"We visited places where the displaced population had little food and scarcely any possessions," Daniel Gagnon, an ICRC relief specialist in Somalia said in a statement issued on 11 March. "People told us that the shelling in [the capital] Mogadishu was so intense they had fled, leaving even the most necessary personal items behind."
An ICRC assessment team reported that shortages of food and water had become life-threatening in the regions of Mudug, Galgadud, Nugaal and Bakool, among others.
Voicing concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in the country, the ICRC said while the media's attention had been riveted on other crises in Africa in recent weeks, the protracted armed conflict in Somalia had intensified, not only in Mogadishu but in other parts of the country.
"Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced," the ICRC said. "Their situation has been exacerbated by a chronic lack of rainfall. The cost of living has risen so steeply that many people cannot afford to buy food and other essential items."
In some parts of the country, the population was entirely dependent on animal breeding and trading. However, pastures had become barren in many places and herders were losing animals that had become too weak to walk the lengthening distances between fresh pastures and scarce water points.
Highlighting the plight of some 3,500 families who arrived two months ago in Guriel, 300km from Mogadishu, Gagnon said: "These families are enduring the extremities of suffering. The living conditions are shocking. In some places, food, water, essential household items, and sanitation facilities are scarce or non-existent."
A severe drought had hit Mudug region, with some communities having lost their basic means of sustaining themselves.
"There is a severe drought in the area, which has not had adequate rainfall for the last three years," Julian Jones, the ICRC's water and habitat coordinator for Somalia, was quoted as saying. "The combination of acute water scarcity and pastures beyond their reach means that people can do little more than hope for rain."
For a large number of the displaced living a few kilometres away from Mogadishu, healthcare was a major concern, ICRC said.
"In the districts of Afgoy and Dayniile, people are worried about an increase in illnesses and disease, such as diarrhoea and malaria," Rodolfo Rossi, the ICRC's medical delegate for Somalia, said. "And there is nowhere for them to go for appropriate treatment because it's too dangerous in Mogadishu."
The ICRC assisted the Somali Red Crescent Society in opening three temporary clinics in Afgoy and one in Dayniile in January and February. It said the high number of weapon-related injuries in Mogadishu remained a source of great concern.