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Somali famine spreads to three more areas, says UN ..

Map of food shortages and territorial divide in Somalia

Three new areas of Somalia have been classified as having been hit by famine, the UN says.

It declared a famine in two large southern regions of the war-torn country in July.

Famine is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks,” said the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit.

More than 11 million people have been affected by the worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa.

The UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said that famine was “likely to persist until at least December 2011”.

Evidence from malnutrition and mortality rates shows that famine thresholds have been surpassed in two rural districts of the Middle Shabelle region - Balcad and Cadale - as well as the parts in and around the capital, Mogadishu, where there are camps for displaced people.

These three areas join the Bakool and the Lower Shabelle region, where famine was declared on 20 July 2011.

A humanitarian emergency persists across all other regions of southern Somalia, and tens of thousands of excess deaths have already occurred," the UN unit said in a joint statement with the US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet).

Getting aid into Somalia has been difficult because al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group, which controls much of the south and central regions and parts of the capital, has banned some aid agencies from their territory.

Despite increased attention in recent weeks, current humanitarian response remains inadequate, due in part to ongoing access restrictions and difficulties in scaling up emergency assistance programs, as well as funding gaps," the joint statement said.

Some 3.2 million people in Somalia are in need of immediate life-saving assistance - almost half the population, the UN says.

According to the FSNAU and Fewsnet, the situation has been compounded by the rise in prices of food staples in Somalia - they have more than doubled since 2010, and in some areas have tripled.

Across all livelihoods, poor households (30% of the population) are unable to meet basic food needs and have almost no ability to cope with these food deficits," their statement said.

It is the first time in 19 years that the country - which has been without a central government since 1991 - has experienced famine.

For mile after dusty mile, the land was not just parched but burned out. All shades of brown and yellow sand, crisp grey thorn bushes, and pools of deep red dust billowed up in great waves, as we ploughed through the dirt road like a ship in a storm.

On our way, we passed an abandoned borehole. We found nothing but the bleached bones of livestock. We stopped at the village to ask why. Alfon stepped forward and told us that her own camel was in the bush nearby, too weak to walk.

This stoic old woman with eight children to feed, took us through the scrub to the slowly dying animal. It had collapsed in the feeble shade of another thorn-bush, moaning softly when Alfon stooped to scratch its neck.

For all her crusty exterior, Alfon almost broke down when she explained how the female camel, who she called “Dup Muthow, had given her and her children milk for years.

But Dup hadn’t had a decent drink for months. The camel looked as though it would be lucky to survive the night.

The tragedy here is that this crisis is as much man-made as it is natural. The meteorologists have blamed the prolonged dry-spell on the “la Nina” phenomenon - when cooler-than-normal ocean currents cycle through the Pacific Ocean.

But out here, they also blame the government.

Alfon told us that the pump that drew water her village borehole broke down about a month ago. The government had since been promising to fix it .”

By Peter Greste (East Africa’s Dust Bowl)« Read Full ..

Somali men carry a severely malnourished child, under the instruction of a African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeeper, from a camp for internally displaced people to the peacekeeping operations headquarters where the child was admitted for emergency medical treatment, in this handout photograph provided by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team, in Mogadishu July 15, 2011. 

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