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Somalia famine is over, says UN

The United Nations says Somalia's famine is over, but has warned that continued assistance is needed.

The world body's Food and Agricultural Organisation moved the crisis from the top step of a five-point scale - based on the death rate - to the fourth step, formally reducing it from a "famine" to a "humanitarian emergency".

However, the UN said that 2.3 million people remain in a food crisis situation in Somalia and still need assistance. That represents 31% of the country's population. Across the Horn of Africa region the total is 9.5 million who need help.

The international body declared famine in Somalia last July after successive failed rains. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Somali capital Mogadishu in search of food.

The famine was exacerbated by the Somali militant group al-Shabab, which has let few aid agencies into the area it controls in south-central Mogadishu.

Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, warned that without assistance in the region over the next three months "those people will not survive."

Mark Bowden, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, said that a massive increase in assistance last year helped lift Somalia out of famine conditions. But he said the international community needed to keep helping.

The announcement that the famine had ended was greeted with incredulity and dismay by refugees in Mogadishu. Fadumo Samow, a refugee at Badbado camp, said reports that the famine was over were "far from the truth."

Ahmedey Bashir, a father of five, said he feared the announcement would stop famine victims from getting aid.

"The famine is almost over but we are desperately dependent on the food aid," he said. "... If they stop it we will be back to it again. Our children are now better than before, but we ask the United Nations still to help us."

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