Huge numbers of Somalis have been forced out of their homes by an insurgency that has been raging since the start of 2007. Much of the fighting now is between government forces and gunmen loyal to hardline Islamist group al Shabaab. Years of anarchy since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, combined with frequent drought and rampant inflation, have turned Somalia into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
Hopes that Somalia's Transitional Federal Government would extend its control and become more popular after a former Islamist rebel was elected president in January 2009 have largely been dashed. Insurgents control much of southern and central Somalia, and parts of the capital Mogadishu. The hardline rebels clash almost daily with pro-government forces and African Union peacekeepers.
Six months of strict rule by the Islamists in 2006 brought relative peace to Mogadishu. That rule ended when troops from Ethiopia, a key U.S. ally, helped restore the transitional government. Foreign involvement fuelled opposition locally and internationally and appeared to boost support for the Islamists, with some analysts saying U.S. accusations of al Qaeda involvement became a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The last of the Ethiopian troops left in early 2009, having failed to stem the insurgency.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Mogadishu since the end of 2006. Aid agencies say the 15 km (10 mile) stretch of road between the capital and the town of Afgoye is probably the largest concentration of displaced people on the planet.
Somalia has the highest malnutrition rates in the world, and more than 2.8 million people need aid.
Food shortages are caused by conflict, high inflation and frequent drought. But food distribution is hindered by pirate attacks on sea deliveries, roadblocks and attacks on aid convoys.
Aid agencies rank Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world to work, and few organisations base international staff there.
The African Union has deployed troops to replace the Ethiopian soldiers, but they complain they are under-funded and under-staffed.
Last updated by INSSA Online Jan 30, 2012.