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Somali President Declares Famine

Somali President Declares Famine

Somalia's president has declared a famine in his drought-stricken country and called for more international help to deal with the crisis.

While touring a displaced-persons camp in the capital, Mogadishu on Tuesday, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said food has become so scarce that there is "in fact a famine" in his country.

The president blamed the food crisis for an exodus of starving Somalis into neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. Aid groups say many Somalis are dying while trying to walk to refugee camps or shortly after arriving in the camps.

Separately, media reports say the United Nations will declare a famine in two regions of Somalia on Wednesday. The reports, citing anonymous sources, say those regions include the Bakool and Lower Shabelle areas.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in six decades. U.N. officials have said more than 10 million people are in need of emergency food aid.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency said it needs further security assurances from Somali insurgents in order to provide the massive level of aid needed in the country.

Militant group al-Shabab has said it welcomes the return of relief organizations, after barring them from strongholds in central and south Somalia more than a year ago.

But spokesman Adrian Edwards told VOA Tuesday that the refugee agency must have a "reasonable degree of safety" before increasing its efforts in Somalia.

Edwards said that currently, the agency must keep a "low profile" and work through partners to avoid being targeted by al-Shabab militants and other armed groups.

Despite access problems, the U.N. agency said Tuesday it has managed to distribute aid packages to some 90,000 people in the capital, Mogadishu, and towns in southwestern Somalia.

It also handed out non-food aid to about 126,000 people in the Gedo and Lower Juba regions.

Somalia has been wracked with lawlessness and deadly violence for years. Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government and to set up a strict Islamic state.