More than 170,000 people have fled fighting in Somalia's capital in the past two weeks, as up to a million people face starvation.
The humanitarian crisis already facing the country is worsening, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
With near-daily clashes between Ethiopia-Somali forces and Islamist rebels, the UNHCR said it was doling out its last stocks from Mogadishu to the displaced, but warned of tough conditions as host areas struggle with the influx.
Some 90,000 people have fled to Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu, which has already taken in some 150,000 displaced people since the beginning of the year.
In the Afgooye area, “people can no longer find space for shelter around the town itself,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.
“Many families are simply living under trees.
Although several NGOs are trucking water to the sites, it's not enough to meet demand,” he added.
Traders stayed away from the volatile Bakara market, where forces have been searching for weapons.
Government troops patrolled strategic positions in the city, but insurgents have stayed out of sight.
President calls on residents
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed urged Mogadishu residents to join the fight against rebels or risk getting caught in the ensuing crossfire.
“People in neighbourhoods must also fight the Shabab and chase them away.
“Otherwise they are the ones who suffer in crackdowns,” he said, referring to the radical armed wing of the main Somali Islamist movement.
Dozens of people, mainly civilians, have been killed and at least 170,000 displaced in some of the worst fighting since April, when Ethiopian troops swept aside the Islamists who had briefly governed much of the country, including Mogadishu.
Witnesses said Ethiopian forces indiscriminately shot civilians in a bid to clamp down on insurgents.
“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” said Mr Yusuf, but the UN special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said such impunity was “unacceptable”.
Mr Ould-Abdallah raised the prospect of retribution for alleged war crimes that have long been ignored.
“People perpetuating crimes and violence are not being challenged before the International Criminal Court,” he said.
“I think the time has come to see what international justice can do to help Somalis,” he said in Nairobi, where he became the first top UN envoy to make such a call for trials before the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
The recent clashes have worsened the humanitarian crisis that has dogged the nation for 16 years, with areas just outside the city struggling to cope with the latest influx of displaced people.
One million faced with starvation
The Shabelle region – Somalia's breadbasket – has suffered its worst crop in 13 years, putting the lives of nearly a million on the edge of starvation.
Aid workers have also said that the few who remained in the worst-affected areas of Mogadishu are beyond the reach of the relief net and face dire conditions.
Dampening peace prospects, Mr Yusuf said future peace talks, if any, would exclude Islamists, some of whose elements have been accused of terrorism.
“I will hold dialogue and consultations and reach peace deals with any group that will denounce violence.”
In Mogadishu, government forces yanked two more radio stations off the air, a day after shutting Radio Shabelle, one of the largest broadcasters in the capital.
The government said stations that “exaggerate the (security) situation” will be shut.
Mr Ould-Abdallah condemned the closure, saying: “This is the kind of thing that should be avoided.”
The International Federation of Journalists said the move was “appalling” and demanded the channels be reopened “immediately and unconditionally.”
Bloody clan bickering and power struggles that intensified after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have scuppered many bids to stabilise Somalia.