The United Nations has declared a famine in two rebel-held areas of southern Somalia as the region suffers the worst drought in more than half a century combined with conflict and poverty.
The UN says 3.7 million people in southern Somalia are now in crisis. It says the ongoing conflict has made it "extremely difficult for agencies to operate and access communities" in the south of the country.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, warned that unless urgent action is taken, the areas afflicted by famine would spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months:
"I can confirm that this assessment highlights the shocking severity of the crisis facing millions of people in Somalia at the moment," he said.
"More specifically, the analysis that has been taken confirms that a state of famine exists in parts of [the] Bakool and Lower Shaballe regions of southern Somalia. The rest of southern Somalia is close to famine conditions, and it is likely the conditions will deteriorate further in the next month."
The Al-Qaeda affiliated Shebab insurgents had imposed a ban on foreign aid agencies in areas under their sway, but have recently allowed limited access.
An estimated 10 million people have been affected by severe drought in the Horn of Africa, including parts of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled their country to neighboring Kenya or Ethiopia.
compiled from agency reports