The United Nations has launched a $1.5 billion aid appeal for Somalia and warned that drought conditions and food shortages in Africa's Sahel region are growing more severe, the Associated Press and AlertNet report.
According to UNICEF, at least a million children in the Sahel — a belt of semi-arid land up to a thousand kilometers wide that spans the breadth of Africa just south of the Sahara desert — face malnutrition after a prolonged period of erratic rainfall in the region. The World Food Programme estimates that between five million and seven million people in the region need immediate assistance and said the crisis will intensify if relief efforts are not expanded.
In Somalia, the number of people receiving food aid each month has tripled to more than 2.6 million, more than 480,000 acutely malnourished children have received nutrition supplements, mass vaccination campaigns have reduced measles cases by nearly 50 percent, and conditions in three out of the six areas where famine was declared in July have improved to pre-famine levels.
Mark Bowden, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told the AP that up to four million people in the country are still in need of emergency assistance and that many remain at risk in areas where Islamist militant group al-Shabaab has banned aid organizations from operating.
"Without the generosity of donors in providing emergency funds, tens of thousands more people would have died," said Bowden, who emphasized the need to sustain ongoing relief efforts. "The Somalia crisis is everybody's responsibility and Somalis need support now. We can't afford to wait, or we will let down the Somali people."