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The United Nations on Friday downgraded famine declarations in three Somali regions, but warned thousands still face

Situation remains dire

UN downgrades famine declarations in three Somali regions, but warns thousands still face death as heavy fighting rocks Mogadishu.




By Peter Martell – NAIROBI

death in the world's worst crisis, as heavy fighting rocked Mogadishu.

Nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation, with three areas remaining in famine including inside the war-torn Somali capital, the UN Somalia Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said in a statement.

"Substantial humanitarian assistance has mitigated the most extreme food deficits" in southern Somalia's Bay, Bakool, and Lower Shabelle regions, the statement read, now classifying them as "emergency" areas.

But despite some improvements the situation remains dire and the outlook bleak.

"Tens of thousands of people have died since April and deaths are likely to continue over the coming months," the statement added.

"Overall, food security outcomes remain the worst in the world, and the worst in Somalia since the 1991/92 famine."

The latest wave of heavy fighting in Somalia's anarchic capital broke out late Thursday, as Islamist Shebab rebels attacked government and African Union troops, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others.

Despite withdrawing from fixed positions in Mogadishu in August, the hardline Shebab militia have vowed to continue waging war against the Western-backed Somali government and the AU troops protecting it.

Witnesses said the fighting was so intense that people in many parts of the city could hear the sound of the battle.

"Four civilians were killed in the Yaqshid area last night after a mortar struck their houses, the fighting was very heavy and so everybody was worried," said Habibo Mumin, a witness.

Medical sources said that at least 12 people were wounded, with six admitted to Mogadishu's Medina hospital.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by Al-Qaeda linked Shebab fighters, who are also battling Kenyan troops in the far south, after Nairobi sent in troops to attack rebel bases there last month.

Aid agencies said that while they welcomed improvements in some areas, they warned the situation remained acute.

"Children are still dying at a frightening rate across Somalia," said Sonia Zambakides, head of Save the Children's emergency response team for Somalia.

"The aid we're distributing is making a difference, but this crisis is nowhere near over," she added.

Famine will persist through December in southern Somalia's Middle Shabelle, in Afgoye -- the world's largest camp for displaced people -- and inside camps in Mogadishu, FSNAU warned.

"Death rates, especially for young children, remain extremely high, in part due to continued outbreaks of measles, cholera, and malaria," FSNAU added.

Oxfam said that attempts to solve the crisis through military action risked increasing suffering for civilians and reducing access for aid agencies.

"We should be celebrating one step forward, with less people at risk of starvation. Instead, we fear two steps back with yet more conflict," said Senait Gebregziabher, Oxfam Somalia country director.

Famine was declared in the Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in July, but later spread to other areas.

Famine implies that at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the UN definition.




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