The U.N. on Wednesday declared the first official famine of the 21st century. The designation was applied to war-torn Somalia, where tens of thousands of people — mostly children — have died of malnutrition.

Famine becomes “official” when more than 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition. Today in parts of southern Somalia, more than half of all children are severely malnourished.

Severe drought and sky-rocketing food prices in the area are aggravated by the fact that the region has been in a state of constant civil and political conflict for more than two decades, and aid officials estimate that some 10 million people need outside support to survive.

The U.S. is the region’s most generous donor nation so far, having pledged $28 million Wednesday in addition to the $431 million it allocated to the cause earlier this year. –BF

The Washington Post:

The famine declaration comes months after U.N. and other aid agencies began sounding the alarm about a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa, where an estimated 10 million people are in need of help. The crisis has been aggravated by civil strife, low rainfall rates not seen in half a century and sharp increases in food prices.

“Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years,” Mark Bowden, the top U.N. official in charge of humanitarian aid to Somalia, told reporters, adding that an infusion of $300 million is needed in the next two months to help alleviate the crisis.

For nearly two decades, Somalia has grappled with civil war and ineffective governments. Today, a weak and corrupt transitional government, backed by the United States and its allies, is in place, with little ability to address the crisis. Much of its energy is focused on preventing the capital, Mogadishu, from being overtaken by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militia.

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