US, UN warn of `acute urgency` over Somalia famine

Tens of thousands have already died in Somalia in recent months, according to the UN`s FAO.

New York: The United States and the United Nations stressed on Thursday the "acute urgency" of the severe drought spreading through east Africa, after the world body declared a famine in southern Somalia.

During a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon pointed to the "critical role" of UN agencies such as the World Food Program and UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) in responding to the crisis, and vowed Washington would support these efforts, the White House said.

The pair "stressed the acute urgency of the situation in the Horn of Africa and discussed focused ways to generate sufficient international contributions and ensure that food and other assistance reaches people in need as quickly as possible, particularly in Somalia," it added in a statement.

Tens of thousands have already died in Somalia in recent months, according to the UN`s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels appealed for help earlier this month, saying they would lift a two-year-old ban on foreign aid groups in order to help Somalis suffering from a severe drought.

But on Thursday, they abducted the country`s newly appointed women`s minister, highlighting the challenges for foreign relief groups planning to resume operations in rebel areas.

The abduction came a day after UN officials officially declared that two regions in the south of the war-torn country had been hit by famine -- the southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, both under Shebab control.

The World Food Programme meanwhile announced that it will begin airlifting emergency food supplies to Mogadishu and plans to reach southern Somali regions.

Donilon also discussed with Ban joint US-UN efforts in Sudan, Libya and throughout the Middle East during the meeting also attended by US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Bureau Report

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