Hundreds of Somalis are dying every day, the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia found in its latest surveys. At least half of them are children.
About 750,000 more people may die from famine in the next four months if there is no adequate response, the UN report said, an increase of 66% from July.
The top humanitarian official for Somalia said getting aid to the starving was a “race against time” and warned the famine would probably spread before the end of the year.
“This isn’t a short-term crisis,” said Mark Bowden, who heads the UN office co-ordinating humanitarian aid to Somalia.
Bowden said the 4 million Somalis needing aid represent more than half of Somalia’s population. He said it is also an increase from 3.7 million Somalis who needed aid in July.
The southern Bay region is the latest area to be declared a famine zone. Nearly 60% of people there are acutely malnourished — four times the rate at which an emergency is declared, said Gráinne Moloney, head of the food security unit.
“I’ve not seen anything like it,” said Moloney.
Famine has now affected six areas, including four southern Somali regions and two settlements of internally displaced people.
The UN says tens of thousands of people have died in Somalia due to the severe violence, drought and famine. More than 150,000 refugees have sought aid in the last few months. Families in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have also been affected.
Bowden said access to areas in the south held by the al-Shabab insurgents was improving, and that some aid agencies were able to work there.
“There’s a far greater level of coverage than we anticipated,” he said.
The UN food agency was focussing on parts of Somalia it did have access to — about 1.9 million people — and encouraging donors to fund other agencies with access to southern areas, said spokeswoman Challiss McDonough.