Somalia facing 'fresh hunger emergency'

Displaced children queue for food rations in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in January 2012 Thousands of people fled to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid.

Poor rains and continuing conflict in Somalia are threatening the recovery from last year's famine, the charity Save the Children has warned.

This could put hundreds of thousands of children at risk of hunger again.

The charity called for an urgent increase in aid as a huge number of families in Somalia are still unable to cope with the effects of drought.

Last year, East Africa was hit by the region's worst drought in 60 years and many thousands of people died.

'Food aid burnt'

It also triggered a major refugee crisis with hundreds of thousands of Somalis fleeing rural areas, much of which are controlled by Islamist militants who have banned international aid agencies.

Map

Many people walked over the border to camps in Kenya and Ethiopia or to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, which is secured by African Union forces helping a UN-backed government.

On Monday, a website affiliated to the al-Qaeda group al-Shabab printed photographs of the militants burning sacks of food in the central Hiran region that it allegedly confiscated from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

It said that the food had gone bad and needed to be destroyed, the website reported.

At one stage six districts of Somalia were declared famine zones last year.

Save the Children called for both an urgent increase in emergency help and a new push to tackle the underlying causes of Somalia's vulnerability to hunger.

"We're going to have a very late harvest," Save the Children's Anne Mitaru told the BBC's Network Africa programme, saying this year's rains had come late and been poor.

The situation has been compounded by the fact that so many people have been displaced and the conflict which keeps food prices high, meaning families are unable to recover, she said.

The food crisis is most acute in southern regions of the country, where the al-Shabab militants are strongest.

The latest assessment from the World Bank says that outright famine is not anticipated but the situation remains serious.

Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, and has been wracked by fighting ever since - a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.

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