March 1 (UPI) -- Insecurity and conflict caused some 320,000 Somalis to become displaced in 2018, a worrying trend that could become catastrophic for one of the world's worst humanitarian situations, said an independent humanitarian organization.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, working with the U.N.-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network, said Wednesday that 50 percent more Somalis were forced to leave their homes last year than in 2017.
"We're alarmed at the sharp increase in the number of civilians forced to flee their homes in Somalia," Norwegian Refugee Council regional adviser Evelyn Aero said. "The conflict is getting worse for civilians, making thousands more homeless. If this worrying trend continues, it could lead to catastrophe."
Being forced from their homes puts the refugees at greater risk of violence and illness, Aero said.
"These families take refuge in crowded camps for displaced people in Somalia, living in flimsy shelters," Aero said in a statement. "They're vulnerable to malaria, evictions, insecurity and gender-based violence. Young children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition and disease."
Though the African country has suffered from internal conflict since at least 1991, the situation worsened following the start of the ongoing civil war in the late 2000s.
Natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, have also contributed to displacing a total of 2.3 million Somalis within the country.
"An upsurge in insecurity and conflict has triggered a new wave of displacement in the Lower Shabelle region of South West state over the last few months," the Norwegian Refugee Council said on its website, adding that the majority of those displaced are women and children.
The United Nations says some 4.3 million people within the country are in need of assistance, and it is seeking $1.1 billion to achieve its humanitarian response plan goal for 2019.
However, it has only raised 6.3 percent of the needed funds.
If it doesn't meet its goal "some lifesaving programs, such as food, water or health care, may be cut back," the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a call for donors to increase their support to help the displaced Somali families.
"They urgently need more aid to survive," Aero said.