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Agency: Somalia facing worst crisis in a decade amid worsening drought, rising food prices
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    NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in a decade, and the situation is deteriorating, an international aid agency said Wednesday.
    Worsening armed conflict, rising global prices of food and fuel, and severe drought in central Somalia are the main factors contributing to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa nation, said Pascal Hundt, head of the International Red Cross’ delegation for Somalia.
    ‘‘When you put all these factors together this is explaining why we are in front of an acute humanitarian crisis in Somalia,’’ Hundt told journalists in the capital of neighboring Kenya, where the ICRC bases the operation because of insecurity in Somalia. ‘‘We have no reason to be optimistic in the short term.’’
    Hundt said Somalia is experiencing its ‘‘worst tragedy of the past decade.’’
    The ICRC will triple its budget this year due to the worsening humanitarian situation in Somalia, Hundt said, declining to give the figure because of concern for staff safety. He said that in the past when the aid agency has made public the financial details of its Somalia operation, its staff there have been threatened with robbery.
    The most severely affected areas are in central Somalia, which has suffered from poor rainfall and harvests for more than two years, the statement said. It said food shortages in central Somalia are severe and livestock, a major source of sustenance, are weakening as pasture land dries up.
    On Tuesday, a group representing a range of Somali organizations warned members from the U.N. Security Council of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
    The group also called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who have been in the country since 2006 to back up Somali forces fighting an Islamic insurgency, saying their departure would accelerate a political settlement of the country’s 18-year conflict.
    The Security Council members were in Djibouti on Tuesday to encourage direct talks between Somalia’s transitional government and an opposition alliance.
    ‘‘The presence of Ethiopian troops is exacerbating the crisis, and their withdrawal will accelerate all-inclusive political settlement,’’ the Somalis said in a joint statement.
    Hundt, however, said that neither Somalia’s fragile transitional government nor the presence of Ethiopian troops has much impact on the ICRC’s operation in Somalia. He urged all parties to the conflict ‘‘to respect rules.’’
    He said there is no safe place in Somalia, either for Somalis or foreign aid workers.
    ‘‘The best place, as I’m speaking now, can be the worst place tomorrow,’’ he said.
    Somalia, a poverty-stricken nation of 7 million people, has been in anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another. A transitional government was formed in 2004 but remains fragile.
    Islamic insurgents who seized the capital and much of the south in 2006 before being ousted by troops backed by Ethiopian forces remain a disruptive presence and a continuing threat to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government.
    Thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.

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