UPDATE 1-Somali famine spreads to three new areas

Wed Aug 3, 2011 6:22pm GMT

* Famine declared in parts of Middle Shabelle, Afgoye corridor

* Tensions have escalated since holy month began

* WFP welcomes U.S. relaxing of rules on Somali aid (Recasts with new famine declaration)

By Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, Aug 3 (Reuters) - The famine gripping parts of southern Somalia has spread to three new areas of the country, with the entire south likely to be declared a famine zone within the next six weeks, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Acute malnutrition and death rates surpassed famine thresholds in the Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, and among the refugee populations in Mogadishu and the Afgoye corridor, said a statement from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's Somalia food security unit.

"(The) current humanitarian response remains inadequate, due in part to ongoing access restrictions and difficulties in scaling up emergency assistance programs, as well as funding gaps," said the statement.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by al Shabaab Islamist militants who last year banned food aid and kicked many aid groups out of the region, exacerbating the drought crisis.

Famine conditions were expected to persist across southern Somalia until the end of the year, the statement said.   Continued...

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