Somalia risks plunging into its worst humanitarian catastrophe since the early 1990s as the twin threats of war and drought put millions of lives in danger, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.
Two and a half million people are in urgent need of assistance amid renewed heavy fighting in the capital Mogadishu and the worst drought for a decade, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
"If things do not improve within the coming weeks we will be confronted with the images of 1991-1992 when drought and civil strife claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told journalists.
Camels are already starting to die because of the drought, she added.
Mogadishu's heaviest fighting in two months erupted on Saturday between Islamist insurgents and Somali government troops backed by Ethiopian forces, prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to call for restraint.
Ban called on "parties to the conflict in Mogadishu to refrain from the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force that endangers the lives of civilians."
Ethiopian troops came to the rescue of Somalia's embattled transitional government in late 2006 to oust an Islamist militia which had taken control of large parts of the restive Horn of Africa country.
Islamist fighters have since waged a guerrilla war against the government, their Ethiopian allies and African Union peacekeepers, with civilians often caught in the ensuing crossfire.
Somalia has been rocked by seemingly endless fighting since the 1991 ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre. (AFP)