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Somalia 'facing a famine disaster'

Famine spreading through Somalia is killing more than a hundred children each day according to the UN, which has warned that hundreds of thousands more may die without urgent help.

The starvation is mostly taking place out of sight of the world media, in areas of southern Somalia under control of violent Islamist insurgents.

"Hungry people are only waiting for death," said Nor Anshur, a father of five who lost one of his children in the Bay region, a former agricultural breadbasket that the UN declared Somalia's sixth famine zone. "We saw our neighbours' children and elderly people dying every day for lack of food."

Like tens of thousands of other Somalis, Anshur left his drought-ravaged home and trekked to Somalia's capital hoping for help. But delivering food is difficult and dangerous. Even in the government-controlled capital of Somalia, where 9,000 African Union peacekeepers are on patrol, organised theft of truckloads of food aid is rife and shoot-outs at aid distributions are frequent.

Conditions are even worse in areas controlled by the Islamist insurgency, which holds much of southern Somalia. It has forbidden many aid agencies to work in its territory where the famine is most severe.

The latest surveys of the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia found hundreds of people are dying every day from the famine. At least half of them are children. Tens of thousands of Somalis already have died this year due to the severe violence, drought and famine, the UN said.

Famine has now affected six areas, including four southern Somali regions and two settlements of internally displaced people.

About 750,000 more people may die from famine in the next four months if there is no adequate response, the UN report said.

So far, it is unclear how much aid can be delivered in insurgent-held areas, by whom, or how it can be tracked. Donors say they do their best to prevent its theft and sale by gunmen, but are reluctant to disclose any details for security reasons.

Mark Bowden, the UN's top humanitarian official for Somalia, said that at least 150,000 homes in insurgent-held areas had been reached and that access was improving. He said it was up to donors to make sure that aid could be provided in time to save lives.

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