Somalia, on the Horn of Africa, has been beset by civil strife for the last 17 years.

More than one million of its nine million people live as internal refugees, and their plight has been worsened by drought.

Grim situation

Pascal Mauchle, the ICRC chief in Somalia, said there had been a "major deterioration of the humanitarian situation".

"External factors, such as the global food crisis and the skyrocketing prices resulting from it, have made the economic situation even worse.

"The chronic nature of the crisis had completely exhausted people's coping abilities," he said.

The aid agency has brought 277 million litres of water to 500,000 farmers and their livestock so far in 2008, and said it would continue to assess whether rains were sufficient for growing crops and feeding livestock.

From June to October, the ICRC provided four months of food rations to another half a million people, mainly in the central region.

Marcal Izard, an ICRC spoksman, said the group had no immediate plans to provide more food to them, but would continue to assess needs.

The agency will have nearly tripled its food aid to Somalia in 2008, feeding nearly one million people.

ICRC said it had provided medical supplies for hospitals in the Somali capital, which have treated more than 2,500 wounded civilians since January.

Displacement woes

Shabab fighters control much of
southern Somalia [AFP]
 
Fighters from the Shabab group, the armed wing of the Islamic Courts' Union, which in 2006 seized most of the country before being ousted by an Ethiopian military intervention, control most of southern Somalia.

On Wednesday, the group seized Marka, a strategic port 100km south of the capital Mogadishu, after pro-government forces fled.

Peter Kessler, the senior external affairs officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Al Jazeera on Thursday: "The situation in Somalia is worsening day by day.

"We have upwards of a million people who are displaced inside the country reliant upon aid, and it is a tragic situation now going beyond Somalia itself into neighbouring Kenya.
 
"In Mogadishu just in the last month we have seen 35,000 people flee their homes, caught up in the fighting. Across the country the situation is much the same, there is indeed a lot of insecurity and uncertainty in the country.

"With ships being hijacked, aid convoys being halted and aid workers being kidnapped by warring clans, it is very difficult to work on the ground.

"The aid community cannot function effectively in all parts of the country, that requires the co-operation of the parties on the ground."

Abdirahin Isse Adow, a spokesman for the Shabab fighters, said on Thursday: "Our fighters have taken the control ... to provide the security of the displaced people, who have been suffering from insecurity.''

The ICRC has been in Somalia since 1977. Its operations have been mainly in the centre and south of the country, where armed clashes continue and essential services are almost totally lacking.