Somali fighting deteriorates world's worst humanitarian crisis
Recent heavy fighting in Somalia including Kenya's military assault in the south is deepening the world's worst humanitarian crisis in the war-torn nation, aid agencies warned Wednesday.
Fighting has choked aid deliveries and blocked civilians trying to escape across the border into Kenya, while heavy rains have raised the risk of water-borne diseases potentially fatal for a weakened population.
The United Nations estimates that 3.7 million Somalis -- around one-third of the population -- are on the brink of starvation and tens of thousands have already died in a country that has lacked effective government for two decades.
Civilians who have already fled extreme drought are now "facing multiple displacements in the wake of the military activities," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned.
"The military build-up is causing anxiety among the civilian population," it said.
"Movement of humanitarian personnel and supplies are also likely to be restricted, subsequently affecting the timely delivery of assistance to populations in need."
Kenya's unprecedented military incursion 11 days ago, launched after attacks on its territory and the abduction of several foreigners on its soil who were taken to Somalia, stunned the region.
Oxfam warned that "the situation in Somalia is increasingly alarming," adding that famine zones are "expected to spread over the next month, including to some of the regions that are now facing further conflict."
"Kenya has legitimate security concerns, and has already welcomed a huge number of refugees, but it must continue to ensure that people can seek safety and shelter," it said in a recent statement.
Kenyan troops have pushed some 100 kilometres (60 miles) into southern Somalia, areas controlled by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants, but restricting routes for civilians fleeing fighting, aid workers say.
"Continued insecurity and military activities at the Somali-Kenya border have restricted movement, causing a sharp decline of Somalis entering Kenya to 100 last week, down from 3,400 week before," OCHA said.
In effect, nearly 5,000 Somalis fled into Ethiopia in the first half of October, almost twice the rate of arrivals in September, it added.
But humanitarian work inside Kenya has also been restricted, especially in Dadaab -- the world's largest refugee camp with some 463,000 people -- following the kidnap of two Spanish aid workers earlier this month.
Their employer, Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), said it remained committed to provide healthcare to those in need, but that "the level of assistance to populations is being deeply impacted by such attacks."
The UN refugee agency says provision of food, water and critical healthcare continues but other routine activities are suspended in Dadaab.
"We are trying our best to work under security constraints, but the humanitarian needs in Dadaab remain huge and the challenges are mounting," Fafa Attidzah, UNHCR chief in Dadaab, said in a statement.
Some 152,500 Somalis have registered in Dadaab camp this year alone, UNCHR says.
The International Organisation for Migration said its works in Dadaab was "abruptly brought to an end" after the kidnappings, halting crucial activities including polio immunisations.
Recent battles in Mogadishu against Shebab fighters have also also forced the suspension of a measles vaccination by MSF, which it warns has become "the main killer of children in Somalia" alongside malnutrition.