U.N. declares famine in two regions of south Somalia

U.N. declares famine in two regions of south Somalia
# 20 July 2011 19:13 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA.The United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia Wednesday and said it could quickly spread unless donors took action,APA reports quoting news.yahoo.com website.

Mark Bowden, humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had been hit by the worst famine in the region for 20 years.

The U.N. is proposing "exceptional measures" of providing "cash relief" while it finds ways of getting larger volumes of food aid into southern Somalia, Bowden said. The U.N. is also appealing for $300 million over the next two months for Somalia.

"If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks," Bowden said.

"Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas."

The U.N. said 3.7 million people across the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country, or almost half the population, were now in danger. Of them 2.8 million are in the south.

In the worst-affected areas, half the children are malnourished. "It is likely that tens of thousands will already have died, the majority of those being children," Bowden said.

Years of drought, that have also affected Kenya and Ethiopia, have hit harvests and conflict has made it extremely difficult for agencies to operate and access communities in the south of the country.

The south is controlled by al Shabaab Islamist insurgents, affiliated to al Qaeda, who are fighting to topple the Western-backed government. The group also controls parts of the capital Mogadishu and central Somalia.

In early July, the rebels lifted a ban on food aid which they had said created dependency. Some analysts say they are allowing aid in because they fear a public backlash if they do not. Others say the rebels want bribes.


The U.N. has said the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 because of the ban had contributed to the crisis.

"If cash is made available, that will enable the market to continue to function," said Luca Alinovi, head of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Somalia.

The U.N. is working to improve its access to airstrips in al Shabaab-controlled territory so that it can import large volumes of food into the country, Bowden said.

Nearly 135,000 Somalis have fled since January, mainly to Kenya and Ethiopia. An average of 1,700 and 1,300 Somalis are arriving in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively each day.

The U.N. defines famine as at least 20 percent of households facing extreme food shortages, a crude mortality rate of more than 2 people per 10,000 per day and malnutrition rates of above 30 percent.