At least 72 people, mostly children, have died in an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea in southern Somalia this month, local officials said Tuesday.
Most of those affected are in the war-ravaged country's southern Shabelle and Bay regions which have been hit by drought.
"Villagers reported to us the outbreak of the watery diarrhoea so I led a team to the drought-hit area," said Moalim Hussein, the deputy governor of Middle Shabelle region.
The figure of 72 deaths was compiled by AFP from various local health workers and administrative officials. Somali health officials confirmed a severe outbreak but had not tallied up the casualties.
"Many are dying of the watery diarrhoea by the day as people drink contaminated water," said Mustafa Abdirahman Osman, a community health worker. "Many others are still sick and need urgent medical assistance."
Local elder Ise Moalim Yasir said: "There is a humanitarian catastrophe."
"We are very worried as there are no humanitarian agencies to assist us," said Hussein Amin, another elder.
Rampant insecurity and attacks on aid workers have hampered the relief effort for the millions of Somalis affected by war, hunger and disease.
The UN estimates that 3.25 million Somalis need humanitarian support.
In November, at least 60 people died of acute diarrhoea in central Somalia.