Red Cross says more than $15M needed to help Somalia recover

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The international Red Cross asked donors Tuesday to contribute more than $15 million for Somalia as the African nation tries to recover from the worst fighting in more than a decade and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

The move would bring the agency's budget to nearly $38 million for 2007 to address recent violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which aid groups estimate has killed more than 1,500 people since March and sent more than 300,000 fleeing their homes.

"The fighting follows a year in which Somalia experienced its worst floods in decades, as well as severe drought, armed conflict and widespread lawlessness, all of which has plunged the population into ever deeper poverty, added to its privations and increased its reliance on external aid," said Pascal Hundt, head of the delegation for Somalia for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC budget for Somalia is on a par with what the agency spends in Afghanistan. Only Sudan, Iraq and the Israel-Palestinian conflict have bigger budgets, the ICRC said.

Regular bloodshed since December has devastated Mogadishu, already one of the most violent and gun-infested cities in the world. The ICRC said it has treated 3,000 war-wounded so far this year.

The aid group said it was using trucks to get drinking water to 60,000 displaced people and residents on the outskirts of Mogadishu for three months.

The U.N. food agency said it was delivering food aid to weary residents of Mogadishu. By the end of the week, the World Food Program said it expects to have given aid to about 114,000 people.

"These people are exhausted," said WFP Somalia Country Director Peter Goossens in Nairobi. "Most of them are women and they were either forced to flee their homes with their children during the recent fighting or they stayed in the city throughout the worst bombardments."

In March, troops from neighboring Ethiopia used tanks and attack helicopters to crush a growing insurgency linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, a hard-line religious movement that controlled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia for six months in 2006. The U.S. had accused the Islamic group of having ties to al-Qaida.

The group was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, and the government declared victory in late April. But the militants, who reject any secular government, have vowed to take back the city and fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic state.

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