On the banks of the dry Horo River, a city of 72,000 people has grown up in the last four months where previsouly there was nothing but parched, semidesert land.

The buildings in this "new town" are homemade huts, and the residents are a small portion of the nearly 1 million refugees uprooted by one of Africa's most intractable wars only about 30 miles from here.

Las Dhure is a microcosm of the world's worst refugee problem, which has inundated Somali camps with about 900,000 displaced persons, according to government figures. More than a thousand new refugees pour out of the battle regions daily, swelling camps that are already at capacity.

Where will the refugees go after the camps fill up?

"Nobody knows. Allah will decide," said Dahir Hassin, commander of Boroma, the newest of 33 refugee camps.

There, 10,000 persons arrived from transit camps on opening day a month ago. The camp is to be closed to new arrivals this month when it reaches its capacity of 60,000.

The refugees, averaging about eight persons in each household, live in small conical huts about a dozen feet apart. Each person has six or seven square feet of living space in the hut, which is made of saplings and bamboo and covered with hides.

Camp commander Ali Haji said 72,000 refugees live at Las Dhure, which is divided into 23 sections of 400 huts each. Although many refugee statistics are subject to exaggeration, those figures are believable. The Horo Valley is lined with huts as far as the eye can see.

For months each refugee has been surviving on about 10 ounces of food a day. That amounts to slightly more than 1,000 calories daily -- about a third of the average American diet and half the "ideal" total established by relief agencies.

The camp has no sanitary facilities, no schools and only two doctors and eight nurses from volunteer organizations.

It is estimated that for every refugee in a camp there is another living with relatives in Somalia, placing a major strain on one of the world's poorest economies. The country is already suffering from a two-year drought.

Relief officials agree that the problem can only worsen because there is no end in sight to the main cause of the refugee influx -- the Somali-Ethiopian border war over the contested Ogaden area.

With about 1,200 persons pouring into the camps daily, the official total has already reached the 900,000 estimate that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has been using to determine future relief needs.

Relief officials estimate that totals provided by the Somali National Refugee Commission are probably inflated by 15 to 20 percent. The higher the figures, the more sympathetic the treatment in the world press, which, in turn, helps spur donations.

So perhaps Somalia has 700,000 refugees in camps, still about three times the number of Indochinese refugees in Thailand, a much more developed country. Counting those living outside the camps, Somalia is said to have more than 1 million refugees.

During most of the year, as refugees came in at the rate of 1,000 a day to the camps, food supplies were the main problem. Because of a variety of shipping problems, little food aid arrived during the summer.

Since September, vast shipments, mainly from the United States and the Common Market, have reached Somalia. But distribution has become a problem. The logistical difficulties are staggering for a country like Somalia, even with the assistance of volunteer relief officials.

With little technical expertise, the National Refugee Commission is seeking to organize the feeding of a population equivalent to that of Baltimore but spread out over more than 1,000 miles. In a country that has barely 1,000 miles of paved highway, many of the camps are accessible only by rutted dirt tracks.

To reach a diet of 20 ounces a day for each refugee, the commission must move about 550 tons of food a day, requiring 33 15-ton trucks to arrive at the camps daily. That was more trucks than the commission could call upon until more than 100 were provided by the Common Market and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in the last two months.

Each round trip, however, takes three to five days, so about 120 trucks must be on the road at all times.

Dale Puffenbarger, an Africare volunteer working for the U.N. agency, estimates that the trucks must drive 14,000 miles daily, using almost 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Last month Somalia lost its main source of fuel when Iraq stopped exports because of the war in the Persian Gulf. But the U.N. agency says it has lined up enough fuel for the rest of the year.

All this effort is designed to provide each refugee with a daily diet mainly consisting of about a pound of grain, oil and beans. The refugees, mostly nomads used to meat as the staple of their diet, average about a third of an ounce of meat a day if they are lucky.

In the province of Gedo, bordering the southern Ogaden, it is estimated that refugees only received 20 to 30 percent of this diet in September and October, leading to several food riots at the camps.

Refugees often fail to report deaths to be able to continue to get the same amount of food for the living.

There are reports that as much as 20 percent of the food bound for the refugees in Gedo disappears into neighboring Kenya, where it is black-marketed or into the Ogaden where it goes to the guerrillas of the Western Somali Liberation Front fighting the Ethiopians.

Despite all these problems it is apparent that the international relief effort has averted acute starvation among the refugees.

In May about a quarter of the children under the age of 5 were malnourished, according to weight-for-height studies, the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control discovered. During the Sahel famine in Africa in the early 1970s, the figure was 12 to 20 percent.

By September, the overall figure in Somalia had dropped to 6 to 18 percent, but Las Dhure had an alarming 39 percent rate of malnutrition, according to Melinda Moore of the center.

As a result, all 15,000 children in that age group living in the camp have been put on two supplementary feedings a day of milk, sugar and porridge.

One explanation for the situation at Las Dhure is that most of the refugees were peasants run off their land by the Ethiopians. They had to walk much farther to reach the camps and were not as accustomed to such hardships as the nomads.

Sophia Hassan Mohamoud, 28, told of walking with her six children, aged 2 to 10, for six days to reach the camp. She said the Ethiopian troops attacked her village of Durwale, near Jijiga in the Ogaden, "killed our men, women and children, burned our houses and took our animals."

The family slept in the open and begged food from nomads, she said as she brushed flies off her 2-year-old son, Ahmad. A ragged jean jacket was all that covered his body.

She said she had not seen her husband, who is fighting for the Western Somali Liberation Front in the guerrilla war against the Ethiopians, for two years.

Standing in her spotless but crowded hut, she was asked what she wanted in the world.

The answer was immediate: "Peace and food for my children."