Mogadishu: The famine ravaging parts of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, is likely to persist for the rest of the year, engulfing all of the country`s south, experts warned on Thursday.
The whole of southern Somalia is already suffering severe food shortages due to a harsh drought affecting several Horn of Africa countries, causing what the UN called the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today.
The continuing lack of rain means the crisis will only deepen, the UN`s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said after three new parts of Somalia were declared on Wednesday to have reached famine levels.
"The rest of southern Somalia is suffering severe food insecurity and is also likely to reach famine levels within the next six weeks, despite the mounting relief effort," it said in a statement.
At least 2.8 million people including 1.25 million children are in dire need of assistance in southern Somalia, OCHA said. Nearly half of Somalia`s estimated 10 million people require humanitarian aid.
"Famine is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks and is likely to persist until at least December 2011," said the UN`s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU).
The FSNAU on Wednesday declared famine in three more parts of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu and the world`s largest camp for displaced people at Afgoye.
Famine was declared last month in two southern districts of Bakool and Lower Shabelle.
The UN unit described drought-hit Somalia as "the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa`s worst food security crisis since Somalia`s 1991-92 famine”.
The latest famine declaration "confirms our concerns over the increasing severity of the crisis facing Somalia, especially IDPs (internally displaced people)," UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said.
Bowden urged "all parties to support an urgent scale up of assistance so that we can save the lives of those who most need our support at this critical moment."
The al Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militia has been blamed for worsening the effects of the drought by restricting aid delivery in regions of Somalia under its control.
The famine-affected regions are mainly under the rule of the Shebab which from 2009 expelled several foreign aid groups.
The drought has also affected parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, but Somalia is the worst hit because of the Islamist Shebab rebels` relentless conflict and aid restriction.
In Mogadishu, daily survival is a struggle for residents who are also observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan dusk-to-dawn fast.
"Every year I used to be able to break my fast in a very good manner," local Mohamed Idris said. "But not now because the situation is too bad. We don’t have food to break our fast with," the 51-year-old said.
Some USD 2.4 billion is required to assist 12 million people affected by the worst drought for decades in the Horn of Africa but only half of that amount has been received.
The African Union, which has contributed USD 500,000 on Thursday, postponed to August 25 a donors’ conference to raise funds for the crisis. The meeting was initially scheduled for next week. No explanation was given.
International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger called for increased donor funding to enable the agency, one of the few allowed by the Shebab to operate in their regions, to feed more than a million people.
"With this budget extension, now Somalia becomes by far our largest humanitarian operation," Kellenberger told reporters in Geneva.
"Given the very serious, extremely worrying situation in the area, we came to the conclusion we had to increase very substantially our budget, which means our activities."