U.N. set to declare famine in parts of Somalia

Tue Jul 19, 2011 12:08pm EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations is set to declare famine in parts of southern Somalia, aid officials said Tuesday, signaling to donors the need for more aid and to insurgents that the population's suffering is taken seriously.

Mark Bowden, humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, is expected to make the announcement Wednesday in Nairobi, based on fresh data from the food security and nutrition analysis unit for the violent Horn of Africa country, they said.

"It will declare famine in several areas of southern Somalia," a Geneva-based aid worker told Reuters, one of several to confirm the expected move.

The world body has described the Horn of Africa drought as an emergency, one level short of a famine, citing dire levels of acute malnutrition among Somali children reaching camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

In all, more than 10 million people are affected and need emergency help, including 2.85 million in Somalia, where one in three children is suffering from malnutrition, the U.N. says.

Famine is defined as a crude mortality rate of more than 2 people per 10,000 per day and wasting rates of above 30 percent in children under five years old across an entire region, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Tuesday it was seeking further security guarantees from armed rebels in Somalia in order to deliver greater amounts of assistance and prevent more hungry people from becoming refugees.

Al Shabaab, Islamist insurgents affiliated to al Qaeda, control pockets of the capital Mogadishu and swathes of southern and central Somalia.   Continued...