UN aid chief says need growing in Sudan, Somalia

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The top U.N. aid official called on Thursday for big increases in assistance for refugees in Somalia and Sudan next year as security deteriorated for millions of people displaced by conflict.

Under-Secretary-General John Holmes said aid for Somalia would need to rise by a third to $400 million next year while funding for Sudan's Darfur region should increase to $825 million from around $700 million this year.

"Increasingly terrible things are now happening in Mogadishu, as it descends into the nightmare of urban guerrilla warfare and reciprocal atrocities," Holmes told the Security Council, reporting on a visit to Africa.

"The international community has the responsibility not to abandon the Somali people to their fate," he said, noting that even though security kept most international aid workers out of the country, more should be done to help those in need.

Holmes said half the population of Mogadishu, or 600,000 people, had fled persistent fighting since Somalia's transitional government came to power after ousting militant Islamists early this year.

The Somalia Consolidated Appeal, which coordinates U.N. agencies and aid groups, would need at least $400 million in 2008, up from $300 million this year for an estimated 1.5 million needy people, he said.

The Somali government has long urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month security was too bad even to send a technical assessment team.

Security Council members said last month it was vital to keep planning for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia despite Ban's view that such a force was unrealistic at this time.

Holmes said that while peacekeeping forces need a peace to keep, "lack of high-level attention is not an option for Somalia, any more than it is for Darfur."

A hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force is due to deploy in Darfur from the start of January. Holmes called it an important step for improving the humanitarian situation.

U.N. officials have said Khartoum had delayed deployment with bureaucratic obstacles and by refusing to approve the inclusion of some non-African units in the force. The United Nations is also still seeking helicopters for the force.

Holmes warned that a decline in security and bureaucratic obstacles were hindering aid operations in Darfur, where U.N. experts estimate that 200,000 people have been killed in four years of fighting, and 2.4 million displaced from their homes.

He said morale among aid workers was low and the humanitarian operation in Darfur was increasingly fragile.

Holmes was also concerned about the prospect of a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Ethiopia, where he urged the government to act to avert famine for many of the 4.5 million people in the vulnerable Ogaden region.