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UN wants more safety in Somalia aid work

GENEVA -- The United Nations said Tuesday it needs further safety guarantees from armed groups in Somalia if it is to help hundreds of thousands of people in need of emergency aid because of drought and conflict.

Aid groups have struggled to reach those affected because armed groups banished them from large parts of southern Somalia starting in 2009. With thousands of people now on the brink of starvation, the most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, promised aid groups limited access to areas under their control.

The UN refugee agency, which has distributed aid to 90,000 people in Mogadishu and in southwest Somalia in recent days, said it isn't enough.

"We . . . need significantly better access than we have at the moment to address an emergency of this scale," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

More than 11 million people in the region known as the Horn of Africa need emergency assistance after what is considered the worst drought in 60 years, the UN says.

Many have left their homes seeking help in large refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, making it easier for aid groups to reach them but raising the prospect of disease epidemics from large population movements and poor sanitation.

In Washington, Reuben Brigety, who oversees the State Department's refugee programs for Africa, said up to half of Somali refugees arriving at camps are suffering from acute malnutrition. Brigety, who visited the camps last week, said refugee flows of 3,200 a day could rise "still more dramatically" in Ethiopia and Kenya. -- AP