UN downgrades half of famine zones in Somalia

Three zones downgraded to emergency status, but aid groups warn crisis not over with four million people needing help.

    Death rates, especially for young children, remain extremely high, in part due to continued outbreaks of disease [EPA]

    The number of famine zones in Somalia has been cut in half, as UN and US food agencies said aid had reduced death rates in the country.

    UN and US food agencies downgraded the famine rating in three areas of Somalia to emergency status on Friday but said three other areas, including the refugee communities of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu remain in the famine zone.

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    An announcement from the UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and the US's Famine Early Warning System: said "Death rates, especially for young children, remain extremely high, in part due to continued outbreaks of measles, cholera, and malaria.

    "Tens of thousands of people have died since April and deaths are likely to continue over the coming months."

    Overall, the agencies said the food situation in Somalia remains the worst in the world, and the worst in the Horn of Africa country since the region's 1991-92 famine.

    Save the Children credited the international aid effort with helping to lessen the famine, but said the crisis is far from over and warned of high mortality rates among children in Mogadishu.

    'Slow relief efforts'

    The aid group Oxfam warned that conflict in Somalia continues to slow relief efforts and said international leaders need to refocus efforts on the hunger crisis.

    Hundreds of Kenyan troops moved into Somalia last month to fight al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, whom African Union troops are fighting in Mogadishu.

    "When drought and famine made headline news, the international community responded generously with support. Now the conflict threatens to jeopardize the very relief efforts they're funding," said Senait Gebregziabher, Oxfam's Somalia director.

    "The international community must not give with one hand and then take with the other by ignoring the needs of Somali people who are struggling in the face of a famine."

    East Africa, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti has experienced a crippling drought over the last year, but that drought turned into famine only in Somalia.

    Aid groups have reduced access to some areas because of limitations placed on them by al-Shabab.

    The UN and US agencies that monitor famine conditions said humanitarian assistance to southern Somalia was extremely limited until September and October due to an inadequate international response and restricted humanitarian access.

    They said famine would persist at least through December in the Mogadishu and Afgoye refugee camps and in the Middle Shabelle region.

    The two agencies said the population in need of emergency assistance in Somalia is currently about four million people.

    The UN said earlier this year that 13 million people across the Horn of Africa were in need.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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