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Somalia’s famine is spreading, UN warns

By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / August 4, 2011

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NAIROBI - The United Nations declared three new regions in Somalia famine zones yesterday, expanding the area where the highest rates of malnutrition and mortality are taking place, including the refugee camps in the capital of Mogadishu.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said that famine is likely to spread across all regions of Somalia’s south in the next four to six weeks and may persist until December.

In Somalia, 3.7 million people are in crisis, the UN said, out of a population of 7.5 million. The UN said 3.2 million need immediate, lifesaving assistance.

The UN said the prevalence of acute malnutrition and rates of crude mortality surpassed the famine thresholds in Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor refugee settlement, and internally displaced communities in Mogadishu. The UN said last month that two other regions in Somalia were suffering from famine.

Somalia, which has virtually no functioning government, is suffering its worst drought in 60 years. Getting aid in has been difficult because Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group, controls much of the country’s most desperate areas.

Al Shabab denies there is a famine. It is trying to stop the flow of refugees toward food, an exodus that would diminish the population from which it draws conscripts and collects taxes.

Earlier yesterday, an official with the African Union said a donor conference to raise money for Somalia famine victims has been postponed for at least two weeks. A conference had been scheduled for next Tuesday to bring together African leaders and international organizations.

An African Union official heads of state were not given enough advance notice to attend.

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