(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- The United Nations officially declared Wednesday two regions in southern Somalia as being affected by famine. Previously, the crisis was classified as an "emergency."
Famine is defined by malnutrition rates among children exceeding 30 percent, and where more than two people per 10,000 are dying per day.
The two regions where famine is occurring -- southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle -- are controlled completely by the al Qaeda-affiliated group Al Shabab.
On Wednesday, some aid groups -- both publicly and privately -- have partly blamed the United States for the crisis. They say the application of anti-terrorism funding laws by the U.S. government on aid groups forced to pay "taxes" to Al Shabaab in 2010 resulted in many agencies, such as the World Food Programme and Mercy Corps, pulling out of the very regions now worst-hit.
"While U.N. humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by Al Shabaab requesting international assistance in southern Somalia, the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the U.N. from reaching the very hungry -- especially children -- and has contributed to the current crisis," the release said.
Mark Bowden, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, is calling on the world to make "exceptional efforts" to help keep the famine from spreading to the other drought-stricken areas.
“More than ever, Somali people need and deserve our full attention. At this time of crisis, we must make exceptional efforts to support Somalis wherever they are in need and expect that all parties will do the same,” Bowden said.
“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” he said.
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