NAIROBI, July 20 (Xinhua)--The United Nations on Wednesday declared that famine exists in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia and appealed for 300 million U.S. dollars over the next two months to scale up response in the affected areas.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden told a news conference in Nairobi that the number of people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance increased by over a million to some 3.7 million people in the first half of 2011, almost half of the people living in Somalia. "If humanitarian agencies do not intervene now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks," Bowden warned.
He said the most affected areas of Somalia are in the south, particularly the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, which host an estimated 310, 000 acutely malnourished children.
Across the country, he said, nearly half of the Somali population, 3.7 million people, is now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south.
He said 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.
Bowden said humanitarian agencies need urgent funding to save lives of Somalis affected by the famine in southern regions. He said humanitarian agencies need urgent funding to save lives of Somalis affected by the famine in southern regions. "Lack of funds for food, nutrition and livelihood interventions is particularly concerning. If funding is not made available for humanitarian interventions now, the famine is likely to continue and spread. Roughly 300 million dollars is needed in the next two months to upscale response in famine affected areas," he said.
Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than 2 people per 10,000 die per day and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities.
Bowden warned that malnutrition rates are currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 per cent in certain areas of southern Somalia.
In southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent, with under-five deaths exceeding 6 per 10,000 per day in some areas.
In the last few months, he said tens of thousands of Somalis have died as a result of causes related to malnutrition, the majority of whom were children.
The relief official said lack of resources enable the relief agencies to provide much needed assistance to Somalis including the populations that is moving away from the conflict-ravaged nation was alarming. "We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need," Bowden said. "Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine affected areas," Bowden said.
While UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by Al Shabaab requesting international assistance in southern Somalia, Bowden said the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry, especially children, and has contributed to the current crisis. "We call on all parties, from the donor community to the local authorities in Somalia, to lift restrictions on humanitarian grounds," Bowden said.
He noted that the humanitarian community is doing its best to address the food crisis, but much more could be done if the current restrictions to the delivery of aid are lifted and unrestricted cross-border passage of relief aid is granted.
Despite challenges, he said humanitarian agencies are working hard to respond. In an effort to reach more children with life- saving interventions, the UN and its partners have scaled up emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, and immunization efforts to combat malnutrition and reduce disease.
To expedite the delivery of supplies into the worst-affected areas, the UN has started airlifting urgently needed medical, nutrition and water supplies.
Over 166,000 Somalis have fled the country to seek assistance and refuge in neighboring countries since the start of the year, with over 100,000 of those fleeing since May. So far in July alone, almost 40,000 new Somali arrivals have been registered in refugee camps in the region. "More than ever, Somali people need and deserve our full attention. At this time of crisis, we must make exceptional efforts to support Somalis wherever they are in need and expect that all parties will do the same," said Bowden.
Somalia is the country worst affected by a severe drought that has ravaged large swaths of the Horn of Africa, leaving an estimated 11 million people in the region in need of humanitarian assistance.
UN agencies have asked for 1.6 billion dollars to pay for essential programs in the Horn of Africa, but have only received half that amount. Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all facing a crisis that is being called the worst in 50 years.