Page last updated at 10:30 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 11:30 UK

Half of Somalis need aid, says UN

Somalis in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, file image
Many Somalis have fled the country to escape the deepening crisis

More than half of the Somali population is in need of humanitarian aid, the UN says, as it warns of deteriorating conditions since the start of the year.

UN food-security officials say one-in-five children are acutely malnourished and the number of refugees has risen by more than 40% since January.

And they warn that those in greatest need are in areas of fierce fighting, making it difficult to reach them.

Government troops are fighting Islamist insurgents for control of the country.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991 and has been the scene of brutal fighting for much of that time.

Future 'even worse'

The UN's Cindy Holleman says the latest figures show a "serious deterioration" in the situation from earlier in the year.

"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.

map showing areas under Islamist control

"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."

The UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia conducted an assessment of the whole country and concluded it is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in almost two decades.

The agency said 3.76 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance - up from 3.1 million at the start of the year and 1.8 million in January 2008.

The UN's approved population of Somalia is 7.5 million, although other organisations have higher figures.

The agency also warned there were now 1.42 million refugees in the country compared with 1 million in January - not including hundreds of thousands who have fled to neighbouring Kenya.

It estimated that 285,000 children under the age of five were acutely malnourished - of which 70,000 were classed as in danger of death if they do not receive help.

The agency warned that the increased intensity of fighting would make the situation worse.

The country is nominally run by a UN-backed government, but in reality much of south and central Somalia is under the control of radical Islamist groups.

Fighting between government forces and militants led President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to declare a state of emergency in June.

Thousands of peacekeepers from the UN and African Union are deployed in the country, but the government says more are needed.

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