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Abdi'asis Haji, 2, a malnourished child from southern Somalia lies on a bed at Banadir hospital, Mogadishu, Somalia, on 26 July 2011. AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

UN warns famine will spread in Somalia

Somali militant have been preventing aid from reaching parts of the country suffering serious food crisis amid major regional drought.

THE UN DECLARED the first famine of the 21st century in parts of southern Somalia just over a week ago. However, the situation continues to deteriorate and the organisation says that famine is likely to spread across the entire south of the country.

Over 10 million people have been affected by the most severe drought to strike the Horn of Africa in decades, which sparked the food crisis.

Somali rebel group Al Shabab, which has been linked to Al Qaeda, forced international aid agencies out of the country two years ago and has refused to back down on its threats of violence against aid staff during the food crisis. The World Food Programme says that it is unable to reach about 2.2 million people in urgent need of food aid because of Al Shabab’s threats.

GOAL CEO John O’Shea has accused the UN of “standing idly by and allowing” the militants to block aid. O’Shea called on the UN to intervene directly and protect humanitarian workers, much as it did in Haiti.

Somali man Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi says that when Al Shabab militants learned he was planning to escape from the famine-struck region to Kenyan refugee camps with his family, they threw him in jail for two days. After his release, the family made their escape but were attacked by a group of gunmen who stole their food and raped his pregnant wife.

The couple’s seven-year-old son died from malnutrition and disease on the journey.

African Union troops have joined Somali forces to tackle Al Shabab, but the food crisis has sparked new fears that the militants will target the aid camps where thousands of people have travelled to for help. Many at the camps are not receiving food because of the shortages.

The WFP began airlifting food supplies into Modagishu this week. The WFP and the UN carried out two airlifts each in recent days.

Read more: Column: The UN must brave up to terrorists to get aid to Somalia >

- Additional reporting by the AP

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