Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Somalia nearing a 'total famine'

Somalis receiving food aid
More than half the population is dependent on food aid in Somalia

Somalia is in danger of descending into famine while the world's attention is focused on the problem of piracy off its coast, the Red Cross has warned.

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross are very wary about using words like famine.

The ICRC's Alexandre Liebeskind said the violence had made it almost impossible for aid agencies to operate.

About half of Somalia's population is dependent on food aid.

Drought, floods and nearly two decades of conflict have driven many into destitution.

Alexandre Liebeskind, head of the ICRC in East Africa, says families are now eating their most prized possessions: the camels and goats of reproductive age.

It is a sign of increasing desperation, he says.

He compared the situation to the last great famine of 1992 when hundreds of thousands died.

Yet the fighting between insurgents, the government and the Ethiopian forces in the country mean aid agencies are finding it all but impossible to work on the ground.

Most international humanitarian staff have had to leave and even Somali staff are finding it difficult to operate, at a time when the situation is increasingly critical, Mr Liebeskind says

The Red Cross is calling for the country's borders to be opened, and for people to be allowed to cross and escape what appears to be a looming disaster.

There have been nearly 100 pirate attacks in Somalian waters this year, despite the presence of several foreign warships.

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