29 000 Somalis under age 5 dead
Nairobi - The drought and famine in Somalia have killed more than 29 000 children under the age of 5, according to US estimates, the first time such a precise death toll has been released related to the Horn of Africa crisis.
The United Nations has said previously that tens of thousands of people have died in the drought, the worst in Somalia in 60 years. The UN says 640 000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, a statistic that suggests the death toll of small children will rise.
Nancy Lindborg, an official with the US government aid arm, told a congressional committee in Washington on Wednesday that the US estimates that more than 29 000 children under the age of 5 have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia. That number is based on nutrition and mortality surveys verified by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The UN on Wednesday declared three new regions in Somalia famine zones, bringing the total number to five. Out of a population of roughly 7.5 million, the UN says 3.2 million Somalis are in need of immediate lifesaving assistance.
Getting aid to Somalia has been made more difficult because al-Qaeda linked militants control much of the country's most desperate areas. Al-Shabaab has denied that a famine is taking place, and won't give access to the World Food Programme, the world's biggest provider of food aid.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled south-central Somalia in hopes of finding food at camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to fight the hunger crisis, but the UN says it needs hundreds of millions more.