Somali famine needs urgent response: Britain

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Deaths in famine-hit Somali regions will escalate unless urgent action is taken, the first British minister to visit war-torn Mogadishu in over 18 years said on Wednesday.

"The stark fact is that in southern Somalia the situation is deteriorating by the day," Andrew Mitchell, Britain's international development secretary, said in a statement.

Up to 400,000 children are at risk of death through starvation if urgent action is not taken now, he added, announcing a $41 million (29 million euro) funding boost.

Without an "urgent response" the crisis could become as bad as Somalia's 1991-2 famine, when over 200,000 people lost their lives, he warned.

"We could face deaths on a similar scale to those seen in 1991-2 if we do not act urgently now," Mitchell said, who visited feeding centres and camps for those fleeing extreme drought. "This is a race against time."

Britain's boosted funding -- for the UN childrens agency -- includes two months supplementary rations for up to 192,000 people, and measles vaccinations for at least 800,000 children.

Over 12 million people in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda are in danger of starvation in the wake of the region's worst drought in decades.

War-wracked Somalia is the country hardest hit by the Horn of Africa drought, with five areas declared to be experiencing famine.

"Evidence of malnutrition is not just in the camps and feeding centres but on every street corner," Mitchell said.

"We risk seeing a whole generation of people decimated by starvation and disease, and further instability across the region," he added.

Britain will also provide $4 million for agricultural projects, including the vaccination of livestock.

© 2011 AFP

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