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UN Somalia humanitarian chief warns of catastrophe
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 19 (Reuters) - A catastrophe is looming in Somalia, where 100,000 people fleeing fighting in Mogadishu lack food and clean water and a diarrhoea epidemic has killed more than 400, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the country said on Thursday.
Cholera has struck hundreds in the Somali capital in the past month, and the worst fighting in a decade and the detention of aid workers have made it impossible to reach U.N. warehouses or land at the city airport, Eric Laroche told a news briefing.
Unless the fighting halts and aid agencies get access to those displaced by the conflict, "a humanitarian crisis is going to turn into a catastrophe and very soon," he said.
Fighting between Ethiopian troops and Somali insurgents in Mogadishu flared again on Thursday, killing at least 12 people, witnesses said.
The insurgents, drawn from the local Hawiye clan and a militant Islamist movement, are fighting the interim government, its Ethiopian military backers and African Union peacekeepers for control of the city.
Four days of ferocious fighting killed 1,000 people in March and a truce since then has failed to prevent sporadic clashes.
An epidemic of acute watery diarrhoea is sweeping the Horn of Africa nation and is likely to worsen in the forthcoming rainy season, Laroche said.
Some 12,429 cases have been detected since the start of the year and 414 people have died, most of them children, he said.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has treated some 800 cases of cholera in Mogadishu in the last month alone, more than in the previous decade, he added.
"Unless people have access to treatment and oral rehydration salts they are not going to survive," Laroche said, adding that the interim government was not helping with access or proposing the use of other airports for aid.
Some 218,000 people have fled the capital since Feb. 1, including 100,000 staying in Lower and Middle Shabelle who are at greatest risk as they are cut off from aid supplies.
Most of Somalia remains "chronically insecure, therefore people are extremely vulnerable", Laroche said.
"Migration means a lot of people are going to be in need of food soon. For the time being, only 40 percent of 50,000 malnourished children are reached. It is not enough."
A U.N. World Food Programme convoy was turned back on April 7 from Afgoye, where 40,000 displaced people are staying, on the pretext that it had not been cleared, he said. He hoped talks with government officials in Baidoa on Monday would lead to better access.
The United Nations has increased its humanitarian appeal for Somalia to $262.3 million from $237 million, said Laroche, who presented it to donor nations at a meeting in Geneva. (Additional reporting by Sahal Abdulle in Mogadishu)
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