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Rain destroys starving refugees' shelters

Tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somali refugees were cold and drenched after torrential rains pounded their makeshift structures early yesterday in the capital, leading to appeals for aid.

Rains are needed to plant crops and alleviate the drought that is causing famine in Somalia, but this weather added to the misery of many refugees who live in structures made of sticks and pieces of cloth.

Disgruntled refugees in several camps in Mogadishu said that more aid is needed. "We are living in plight, we left our homes, lost our animals and farms so we ask everyone to help us to survive," Abdi Muse Abshir said. Lul Hussein, who has five children, said her family had a sleepless night after their makeshift home crumbled.

"We are starved and we don't have enough help," she said. "Who's helping us? No one! So we are already between death and bad life."

Aid agencies have limited reach in Somalia, where Islamist militants are waging an insurgency against the country's weak UN-backed government. The most dangerous group among the militants, al-Shabaab, has barred major relief organisations from operating in the territories it controls.

The UN said tens of thousands already have died in Somalia in areas held by the Islamist rebels because food aid could not reach them. The African Union peacekeeping force fears that al-Shabaab may try to attack the camps that house famine refugees.