NAIROBI // The drought in Somalia has killed more than 29,000 children under the age of 5, according to US government estimates.
The drought is likely to persist in the coming months, tipping all of Somalia's south into famine, experts warned yesterday. The UN says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, which suggests the death toll of small children will rise.
Nancy Lindborg, a US aid official, told a congressional committee on Wednesday that the US estimates that more than 29,000 children have died in the past 90 days in southern Somalia. The estimate is based on nutrition and mortality surveys verified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The UN has declared three new regions in Somalia famine zones, bringing the total to five. The new areas include Mogadishu and the world's largest camp for displaced people at Afgoye.
The rest of Somalia is "likely to reach famine levels within the next six weeks, despite the mounting relief effort", the UN said.
Getting help to Somalia has been made more difficult because Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda control much of the country's most desperate areas.
Al Shabab has denied that a famine is taking place, and refuses access to the World Food Programme, the world's largest provider of food aid.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled south-central Somalia in hopes of finding food at camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to fight the hunger crisis, but the UN says it needs hundreds of millions more.
The African Union, which has contributed $500,000 (Dh1.83 million), yesterday postponed to August 25 a donors' conference to raise money to help the starving. The meeting was initially scheduled for next week. No explanation was given.
Humanitarian aid teams from the UAE are in the Horn of Africa distributing 900 tonnes of food and digging water wells.
In Mogadishu, survival is a struggle for Muslims observing the Ramadan fast.
"Every year I used to be able to break my fast in a very good manner," Mohamed Idris, 51, said. "But not now because the situation is too bad."
* With reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
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