UK warns 1991 Somalia famine repeat could kill 400,000 children

Somalia's hunger crisis could become as bad as the famine of the early 1990s, in which more than 200,000 people died, unless relief efforts are stepped up, Britain's international development minister said on Wednesday during a visit to the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Andrew Mitchell warned that up to 400,000 children are at risk of death through starvation without immediate action by donors and aid agencies.

"Evidence of malnutrition is not just in the camps and feeding centres but on every street corner," he said in a statement. "The stark fact is that in southern Somalia the situation is deteriorating by the day. We could face deaths on a similar scale to those seen in 1991-2 if we do not act urgently now. This is a race against time."

Several areas in the south and the capital have been classified as in a famine situation, and the United Nations said in early August famine would likely spread across the whole of the south within six weeks, lasting until December at least. Tens of thousands of deaths have already occurred.

Overall, at least 3.7 million Somalis - around half the population - are judged to be suffering an acute food and livelihood crisis, including some 3.2 million who are in extreme need of immediate, lifesaving assistance.

On Wednesday, Britain announced an additional contribution of £25 million ($41.4 million) to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) to provide supplementary food rations, and to carry out immunisations and malaria prevention. It will also provide £4 million ($6.6 million) to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to help protect 2.1 million livestock weakened by drought.

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