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International News | August 5, 2011

Fighting Famine

International News

Aid groups battle against acute malnutrition

Militants in Somalia continue to be the biggest stumbling block to delivering aid to the famine-plagued country-despite pleas from the international community and a UN announcement that acute malnutrition in the country is spreading. But humanitarian groups working in surrounding countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are providing a way for the outside world to help.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked group that controls large parts of Somalia and has blocked food and grain shipments, to allow aid to move "unfettered" into famine areas. At the same time, the UN declared four new areas of the country, including areas near Mogadishu, the capital, as surpassing famine thresholds.

"A humanitarian emergency persists across all other regions of southern Somalia, and tens of thousands of excess deaths have already occurred," announced UN food and security analysts in neighboring Kenya. Despite increased attention since the UN first declared the famine in July, the international response remains "inadequate"-due largely to restrictions by militants. As a result, experts believe the famine will continue to widen across all regions of southern Somalia and to persist at least until December.

With at least 12 million people needing food aid in the Horn of Africa (see "Famine fables" from the current issue of WORLD), up to a quarter of Somalia's population has fled Somalia and is jamming overflowing refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Only weeks ago, arrivals at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp averaged 1,000 per day; now they average 1,300, and aid workers say deaths within the camp are rising.

This week President Barack Obama announced he would relax some restrictions in place against al-Shabaab-even as lawmakers testified that recent arrests could indicate the group is plotting with al-Qaeda to attack U.S. targets. So far al-Shabaab has allowed only a few groups: UN agencies, Seattle-based Mercy Corps, and the International Red Cross. But other aid agencies are mobilizing to help Somali refugees who have fled to Kenya and Ethiopia, while also helping locals affected by the region's worst drought in 60 years.

Here are a few:

With reporting by Jamie Dean