The United Nations declared a famine in three more regions of Somalia on Wednesday.
The capital of Mogadishu, the Afgoye corridor outside of the capital, and the Middle Shabelle region all now qualify has having famine conditions, bringing the total number of areas in Somalia up to five.
On July 20, the U.N. confirmed outright famine conditions in the Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool regions. Famine can be determined when "at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons," according to the U.N.
The famine in Somalia stems from a number of causes, most noticeably a massive and long lasting drought in the Horn of Africa, which has all but halted agriculture in the region. Somalia doesn't have the economic or political infrastructure to provide imported food for all of its people, and the powerful rebel group al-Shabaab has highjacked aid missions, leaving millions starving across the country.
Thousands of Somalis have flocked to Mogadishu in the past two months, hoping to find work, food and safety. The rapid increase of internally displaced persons in the capital is in part what has caused the U.N. to declare famine in the city and surrounding areas.
A total of 12.4 million people in Somalia require immediate assistance, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the number of people needing lifesaving humanitarian assistance could reach 15 million before the situation begins to turn around.
The U.N. said on Friday that another $2.5 billion in aid was required to help those suffering in Somalia. This is higher than the last projected figure of $1.6 billion, an indication that the famine is indeed spreading.
“This is a time of great crisis, but also of rare opportunity. It is a time for everyone to pull together to help those suffering and to work towards a better future for all,” said Augustine Mahiga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, in a letter to Somali people around the world.
“I appeal to all those who are able – Somalis and the international community alike – to give as much as they can during this Holy Month to feed the hungry, heal the sick and prevent the famine spreading further,” he stated, referring to the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan that began on Monday.
There are currently 860,000 Somali refugees living in the Horn of Africa, as well as 1.5 million internally displaced people, nearly a third of whom are in the famine-stricken Afgoye corridor IDP camp.
Many Somalis have fled to neighboring Kenya, where the United Nations has been frantically expanding refugee camps to accommodate the increasing numbers. The United Nations said Monday that although Kenya requires aid, famine is unlikely to spread to the country.
About 3.7 million people in Kenya now need assistance, which is roughly 800,000 more than just a few weeks ago, according to U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.
The current famine is the worst humanitarian disaster in Africa in two decades. The last time there was such a large-scale famine was in 1991-1992; it also occurred in Somalia.
"This is worse than 1992," Dr. Lul Mohamed, Banadir's head of pediatrics, told the New York Times. "Back then, at least we had some help."