The United Nations has officially declared a famine in Somalia as the worst drought in 60 years endangers some 12 million people in the African nation.
At least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, more than 30 percent of the population is affected by acute malnutrition and there are at least two deaths per 10,000 people each day, according to the UN definition of famine.
Al-Qaeda-linked rebels known as the Shebab control southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle – two specific regions in the south also known as Somalia's breadbasket -- which have been especially hard-hit by the drought.
The terror-linked rebels expelled relief groups two years ago, accusing them of being Christian crusaders and Western spies, sealing the fate of many of those who now find themselves trapped there.
Aid groups are now warning that many will die without urgent action -- and funding -- according to a statement issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia.
An estimated 3.7 million people – nearly half of the war-ravaged nation's population – face a food crisis, according to the UN agency. Of those, an estimated 2.8 million people are living in the south, said Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.
“If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months due to poor harvests and outbreaks of infectious diseases, said Bowden.
“If we are not able to intervene immediately, tens of thousands more Somalis may die,” he said, adding that malnutrition rates there are currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 percent in some southern areas.
More than 78,000 Somalis have fled to nearby Ethiopia and Kenya in the past two months to escape the conflict and famine.
The Food and Agricultural Organization appealed Wednesday for $120 million for the 12 million drought victims in the Horn of Africa.
UN agencies are set to meet Monday in Rome to discuss the crisis as world leaders call for mass mobilization to contain what is being referred to as “one of the planet's worst unfolding humanitarian disasters.”
Somalia, a nation in ongoing conflict for 20 years, has been by far the hardest-hit but by no means the only African nation to be affected by the drought. Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti are suffering the effects of a drought as well.
It has been impossible to determine whether neighboring Eritrea is also affected, according to the AFP news agency, since it is one of the most secretive countries in the world. The US has urged the country to reveal whether its own food situation is at risk as well.