UN declares famine in southern Somalia
Nairobi - The United Nations said on Wednesday that famine has hit two parts of rebel-held Somalia, due to a severe drought affecting more than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa.
"The United Nations declared today that famine exists in two regions of southern Somalia: southern Bakool, and Lower Shabelle," a statement by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia said.
Both are areas controlled by al-Qaeda inspired Shabaab insurgents.
"Across the country nearly half of the Somali population - 3.7 million people - are now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south," the statement read.
"Consecutive droughts have affected the country in the last few years, while the ongoing conflict has made it extremely difficult for agencies to operate and access communities in the south of the country," it added.
Officials warned that unless urgent action was taken the areas afflicted by famine would grow.
"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," Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told reporters.
Countries affected across the region include parts of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti, while the United States on Tuesday also urged secretive Eritrea to reveal how severely it has been hit by the drought.
Famine implies having less than 2 100 kilocalories of food per day, acute malnutrition in more than 30% of the children and two deaths per 10 000 people every day, according to the Integrated Phase Classification, a food security measure used by the UN and other relief agencies.
The Shabaab expelled foreign aid groups two years ago, accusing them of being Western spies and Christian crusaders.
However, the UN last week airlifted in the first supplies since the group said it would lift restrictions on aid.