African Union troops remain on the offensive in Somalia in an effort to ease the flow of food aid to the famine-stricken country.
A spokesman for the AU peacekeeping force, Paddy Akunda, tells VOA's Somali Service that troops are trying to capture a Mogadishu football stadium and other key areas controlled by militant group al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab has denied a famine is taking place, and banned many aid groups from operating in areas of southern and central Somalia under its rule.
Definition of Famine:
The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:
- Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
- More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
- Severe lack of food access for large population
Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 per cent in some areas. The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.
The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:
- Somalia 1991-1992
- Ethiopia 1984-1985
- Ethiopia 1974
Akunda said the AU offensive, launched Thursday, is designed to "widen the space for delivery of humanitarian aid." Last week, the U.N. World Food Program began an emergency airlift of food into Mogadishu.
The U.N. has said some 3.7 million Somalis are in need of emergency assistance.
Akunda said four Ugandan soldiers have been killed since the AU offensive began. He said at least one of the troops' bodies was dragged through the streets Friday.
The World Food Program said Somalia is the epicenter of the regional drought, which has also affected millions in Kenya, Ethiopia, and other Horn of Africa countries.
The U.N. recently declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia and has warned that famine conditions could spread to other areas if aid does not get through.
The drought has forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee their homes in search of food and water. Many have gone to camps in Mogadishu, while others have fled to crowded refugee camps in Kenya or Ethiopia.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that it is distributing food to 162,000 people in central and southern Somalia.