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Oxfam boosts aid effort to thousands fleeing new fighting in Somalia

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NAIROBI — International agency, Oxfam, said today it is increasing its emergency response in Somalia, providing water, shelter, and other aid to thousands fleeing deadly new violence in the country's capital.

"War, drought, and malnutrition are thrusting Somalia towards even greater catastrophe. Tens of thousands are on the move, hundreds of thousands are displaced, and more than three million are in dire need of aid," said Hassan Noor, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. Noor just returned from Afgooye, a town several miles south of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

Many of the 70,000 people who have fled Mogadishu in the past few weeks are now sheltering in Afgooye, as part of the approximately 400,000 people made homeless by years of conflict who are now taking refuge in Afgooye. Working through local partners, Oxfam is providing shelter and mosquito nets to recently arrived families, and has expanded its water and sanitation system to aid an additional 84,000 displaced people. Oxfam is now supplying water to over 200,000 people in Afgooye, and plans to increase its efforts further in the coming months. Additionally, the agency's local partner organizations will soon begin providing specialist care and food to 9,500 of the most severely malnourished children and mothers in Mogadishu itself.

"Living conditions in Afgooye are some of the worst I have ever seen," said Noor. "I couldn't see a single shelter fit for human beings, and thousands of people have nothing to sleep under or protect them[selves] from the searing heat and heavy rains. I saw sick children lying on the floor with diarrhea and disease. I saw a young girl who had been shot in the head, fleeing with her family. People told me they expect the situation to get even worse in the next few weeks—more people are going to be killed or forced to flee for their lives, and the humanitarian need here is going to keep rising."

Oxfam warned that if the newly erupted fighting continues, it will become even more difficult for aid agencies to respond to the escalating needs. Somalia is already one of the most dangerous places in the world to deliver humanitarian assistance, with 40 aid workers killed since the beginning of 2008. The agency called on all parties involved with the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law, and allow for the safe provision of aid to all who need it.

"Local Somali aid workers, who are working tirelessly to get help to thousands of people, need support from the rest of the world. The recent fighting has made the humanitarian crisis in Somalia even worse, at a time when nearly half the country's population is already in desperate need of aid. Families are struggling to cope with a lack of food and basic services, and the worst drought Somalia has seen in more than a decade," said Noor.

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