NAIROBI, Jan 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hunger and malnutrition are expected to fall in Somalia this year despite flooding and drought caused by El Nino and thousands of new arrivals from Yemen and Kenya, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
But one in two people still need aid in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation. More than 300,000 children under five are acutely malnourished, 56,000 of whom face death if not treated.
Appealing for $885 million in aid, Peter de Clerq, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said agencies aimed to reduce the number of people requiring food aid to 3.2 million from 4.9 million and cut malnutrition rates.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since civil war broke out in 1991. Islamist militant group al Shabaab has waged a decade-long insurgency against the Somali government, which is supported by African Union troops.
Fighting, combined with attacks on aid workers and a history of aid being manipulated for political gain, means Somalia is one of the toughest countries for relief agencies to operate in.
Famine in 2011 - caused by failed rains, conflict and a ban on food aid deliveries to territory held by al Shabaab - killed some 260,000 people.
But aid agencies expect better functioning markets and improved security in some areas this year will help to end hunger for hundreds of thousands of Somalis.
"With adequate support, we can reduce deaths," de Clerq said in a statement.
Humanitarian demands have also been stretched by the arrival of 30,000 Somalis who were refugees in neighbouring Kenya and Yemen, as well as Yemeni refugees fleeing war in their country.
In addition, some 145,000 people have been hit in recent months by the El Nino weather phenomenon which triggered flooding and droughts across Somalia, the U.N. said.
The African Union peacekeeping force working with Somalia's military has made significant gains against al Shabaab in recent years, pushing the militants out of strategic towns in south-central Somalia.
They still control some rural areas and frequently launch attacks. On Sunday, al Shabaab said it had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers, who are part of the African Union force, during an attack on military bases. Kenya did not confirm the casualties.
More than one million Somalis are internally displaced while another one million are hosted as refugees in neighbouring countries.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Ros Russell)
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