Persistent violence and a prolonged drought have plunged Somalia into its worst humanitarian crisis since civil war erupted two decades ago, with a third of its 10 million people needing relief aid, a United Nations report said Tuesday.
One in every five children is acutely malnourished, around 1.42 million have been displaced by violence and up to 3.76 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, said a study by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU)for Somalia.
The FSNAU, set up by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization to provide aid agencies with reliable data from the lawless country said that "Somalia faces its worse humanitarian crisis in 18 years amid an escalating civil war."
The majority of those affected are in the country's southern and central regions which have seen heavy fighting and remain largely inaccessible to humanitarian relief efforts.
"The depth of the crisis in these areas is severe with up to 75 percent of the total population in humanitarian emergency," said the study.
An anti-government onslaught by hardline Islamist rebels since early May has deepened the crisis, with hundreds of civilians killed and tens of thousands displaced, mainly from the capital Mogadishu.
Cindy Holleman, chief technical advisor of the Somalia FSNAU, told Reuters that the increase in the number needing help from 3.2 million in August 2008 showed a serious deterioration in the emergency food security and nutrition situation.
"More worrying is that the escalating fighting and conflict is occurring in the same areas where we are now recording the greatest problems of food access and malnutrition," she said.
"This will not only place additional burdens on the people already in crisis, but will also make it difficult for humanitarian relief to reach the vulnerable populations most in need of humanitarian and life-saving interventions."
Violence has killed more than 18,000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1 million from their homes.