New York, US (PANA) - The UN Wednesday declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia following the worst drought in decades, and appealed for urgent resources to assist millions of people in desperate need of help.
``Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas,” Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said in a statement.
The statement, which was made available to PANA in New York, stated that, ``famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities''.
Bowden also warned that malnutrition rates in Somalia were currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 per cent in certain areas of the country’s south.
He said: ``In the two regions of southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle in southern Somalia, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 per cent, with deaths among children under the age of five exceeding six per 10,000 per day in some areas''.
``In the last few months, tens of thousands of Somalis have died as a result of causes related to malnutrition, the majority of them children,'' he noted.
``If we do not act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” the UN official said.
Bowden also added that, ``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''.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 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''.
OCHA also said that, ``nearly half of the Somali population -- 3.7 million people -- are now estimated to be in crisis, with an estimated 2.8 million of them in the south''.
Meawhile, UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by the insurgent group Al-Shabaab requesting international assistance in southern Somalia.
They, however, said that, ``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''.
``Despite challenges, humanitarian agencies are working hard to respond and have scaled up efforts in recent weeks.
``To expedite the delivery of supplies into the worst-affected areas, the UN has started airlifting urgently needed medical, nutrition and water supplies,'' the agencies stated.
The UN agencies have asked for US$1.6 billion to pay for essential programmes in the Horn of Africa, but have only received half that amount.
Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all facing a drought crisis that is being called the worst in 50 years, leaving an estimated 11 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
-0- PANA AA/VAO 20July2011