UN warns of 750,000 deaths as Somalia famine area spreads

The United Nations warned yesterday that as many as 750,000 people could die in the next four months if aid does not reach them in Somalia, declaring that a sixth region in the country's south is now in famine. Bay province in south-central Somalia is the latest area in the drought-devastated country to be classified a famine zone.

Almost entirely controlled by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab, it is said to have malnutrition rates worse than anything previously recorded in the country. "The rate of malnutrition among children in Bay region is 58 per cent," the UN's technical adviser Grainne Moloney said.

More than half the Somali population – around four million people – are now dependent on food aid. Tens of thousands of people are thought to have died in the crisis, which has also hit areas in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda, after the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years.

As many as 150,000 people have fled their homes, filling refugee camps in search of help.

More than £1bn has been donated to help respond to the emergency since it was first declared at the beginning of July. But the UN says its not enough to stop people dying of hunger.

"The increase in humanitarian funds that have come in since July has allowed us to immediately and significantly scale up our response, but this external support will need to be sustained," Ms Moloney said. "These funds have only just begun to flow in now and we can expect our activities to continue to scale-up."

Somalia has been worst hit by food shortages, which have been compounded by the country's brutal 20-year civil war.

Accessing people in large parts of the country controlled by militants has been almost impossible for all but a handful of aid agencies, which operate on an extremely limited basis.

At the weekend, the head of the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched a stinging attack on the appeal for aid, arguing that some agencies were misleading the public on how much they can achieve in Somalia.

"MSF has been working in Somalia for 20 years, and we know that if we are struggling then others will not be able to work at all," Dr Unni Karunakara said. The reality on the ground is that there are serious difficulties that affect our abilities to respond to need."

He said members of the public donating money should know that nearly all aid being delivered is distributed in the capital Mogadishu.

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