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Nearly 800,000 children in Somalia face immediate death

Concern video shows extent of humanitarian crisis in refugee camps as militants threatening to ban return of aid agencies not already on the ground.

Image: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

THE UN HAS warned that nearly 800,000 children in Somalia are at risk of imminent death if urgent assistance does not reach the country.

The organisation’s children’s division UNICEF says it fears tens of thousands of people already have died in Somalia’s famine, which has prompted Somalis to walk for days in hopes of reaching a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya.

“UNICEF is using every means possible to reach every child,” said Elhadj As Sy, a regional director for UNICEF. “Every life must count and we cannot afford to lose more lives to this crisis.”

However, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group has said it will not allow banned aid organisations to return, meaning only a handful of agencies will be able to respond to the worsening famine in southern Somalia.

The spokesman for the militant group al-Shabab, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said late yesterday that aid agencies the group previously banned are still barred. A statement from Rage earlier this month had said that the group wanted to open talks with aid groups to facilitate their return.

Some groups, like UNICEF and Save The Children, operate in militant- controlled areas of Somalia. But other groups, like the UN’s World Food Program and Mercy Corps, are banned.

Rage also called the UN’s declaration of famine in parts of Somalia politically motivated and “pure propaganda.”

Somalia’s prolonged drought devolved into famine in part because neither the Somali government nor many aid agencies can fully operate in areas of southern Somalia controlled by al-Shabab.

The World Food Programme said today that it will begin providing food for 175,000 people in the Gedo region of southwest Somalia and to 40,000 people in the Afgoye corridor northwest of the capital Mogadishu.

The UN  estimates that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought, with 3.7 million in Somalia among the worst-hit because of the ongoing civil war in the country.

This video from Concern in Somalia gives some sense of the scale of the crisis in the refugee camps:

“It is much worse than people realise”: Mary Robinsons visits Somalia>

UN declares famine in parts of Somalia>

In pictures: A photo essay from war-torn Somalia>

Aid agencies seek urgent help>

- Additional reporting from the AP

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