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WFP considers returning to rebel-held Somali regions
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) July 13, 2011

Somalia child malnutrition rate is the world's highest: ICRC
Geneva (AFP) July 13, 2011 - Malnutrition rates for children under five in Somalia now stand as the world's highest as the country struggles with persistent violence and an unprecedented drought, the international Red Cross said Wednesday.

"The nutritional state of children under five years of age in central and southern Somalia is a cause for great alarm," said the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement.

"Levels of malnutrition have reached a new peak and are currently the highest in the world," it added.

Data from 39 clinics and 18 therapeutic feeding centres show that in some parts of Somalia, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition has almost doubled since March.

Even in the Bay and Lower Shabelle regions, which are the country's breadbaskets, about 11 percent of children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

"These deeply disturbing findings show that the population is no longer able to cope with harsh climate conditions, such as the current drought, while at the same time struggling to survive armed conflict and other violence," said Andrea Heath, the ICRC's economic security coordinator for Somalia.

Thousands of Somalis have fled their country in recent months to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya in search of food and water and many have died along the way as the region suffers its worst drought in 60 years.

The UN was discussing Wednesday whether to send its food agency back into southern Somalia after the Islamist rebels who control the region appealed for help to face a drought threatening millions.

Two years after expelling foreign aid groups, the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab asked for assistance as one of the region's worst droughts in decades risked starving a third of Somalia's population of 10 million.

"With needs so great in southern Somalia, WFP (World Food Programme) is working with the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator to explore every possibility to return if conditions allow and if the necessary security clearance from the United Nations is granted," it said in a statement.

"WFP will also consult with donor governments to ensure that they are comfortable with the complexities and risk associated with any resumption of humanitarian operations."

The UN food agency pulled out of southern Somalia in early 2010 following threats against its staff and increasingly draconian rules imposed on its activities by the Shebab, who are listed as a terror group by Washington.

Higher taxes, a ban on female staff and routine accusations that foreign aid groups were Western spies and Christian crusaders gradually forced nearly all international presence out of the area.

"WFP will not stand by while the lives of hundreds of thousands, many of them children, are under threat in southern Somalia," the agency said.

The International Committee of Red Cross said Wednesday that malnutrition rates among children under five in central and southern Somalia now stood as the world's highest, terming it a "cause for alarm."

The Shebab, who had consistently argued they needed no foreign assistance to feed their people, last week appealed for help, saying they would allow aid delivery to drought-affected regions.

"This shows how much the drought is influencing the political agenda," Italy's deputy Foreign Minister Alfredo Mantica said Monday after a trip to Mogadishu.

"The arrogance with which the Shebab has refused the humanitarian aid is disappearing in the face of the need.

"This will probably enable us to renew a kind of dialogue with the part of Shebab who don't just have an Islamic agenda but also a national agenda," said Mantica, insisting that such dialogue will centre only on humanitarian issues.

Relief groups have appealed for aid as they struggle to cope with the devastation, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urging action to avoid starvation.

"We must do everything we can to prevent this crisis deepening. The human cost of this crisis is catastrophic. We cannot afford to wait," he noted.

Also Tuesday, the African Union appealed to the international community to assist the drought-ravaged Somalia, which has been mired in a relentless civil war since 1991.

During a visit to the region last week, the UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres said Somalis face the world's worst humanitarion crisis.

Germany and the United States have pledged millions of dollars in aid of the drought victims, while British aid agencies last week launched a joint fundraiaing appeal for the Horn of Africa region.

Twelve million people in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have been affected by the drought that has decimated livestock, depleted food reserves and devastated livelihoods.

In Kenya, Somalis fleeing violence and hunger have flocked at the world's largest refugee camp in the east of the country, an overcrowded settlement hosting 380,000 refugees, more than four times its initial capacity.

Nairobi has refused to allow the use of a new camp completed last year to ease congestion at the three-camp Dadaab complex, citing insecurity posed by the Shebab as the country shares a long and porous border with Somalia.

The aid agency Oxfam called on the Kenya government this week to allow refugees to use the new camp.

The Horn of Africa's recurrent drought has been blamed on climate change, but also lack of long-term strategies to minimise the conseqences that leave many vulnerable.

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Food aid needed for 3 million more Afghans amid drought: WFP
Geneva (AFP) July 13, 2011 - Up to three million more Afghans will need food aid by autumn as a drought leads to food shortages, the World Food Programme said Wednesday.

"The main wheat production in the north and north-west, that's where this crop failure occurred," said Bradley Guerrant, the UN food agency's deputy director in Afghanistan.

"They have failed both to late rain as well as insufficient rain," he added.

Local government estimates suggest that the overall harvest would be about 28 percent lower than a year ago.

While some of the shortfall could be made up by imports from the private sector, government reserves and a donation from India, about 300,000 metric tons will remain uncovered.

This shortfall would come on top of the regular food aid needed to feed about seven million people in the country.

The WFP noted that the budget to feed those already in receipt of aid is running $202 million short this year, but "additional resources may be necessary" to meet needs arising from this year's drought.

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