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UN Calls Emergency Drought Meeting

A newly arrived Somali refugee child awaits medical examinations at the Dadaab refugee camp, near the Kenya-Somalia border, July 23, 2011

The United Nations is holding an emergency meeting Monday to discuss ways to address the drought crisis in the famine-struck Horn of Africa, a day after Australia joined international calls for aid to the region.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization says the meeting in Rome will include ministers and senior representatives of its member countries, as well aid groups and regional development banks.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in six decades. The U.N. has said more than 11 million people are in need of food aid.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said failure by the international community to provide aid would mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, mostly children. Rudd was in Somalia to appeal to the world to help avoid a catastrophe.

Last week, the United Nations declared a famine in southern Somalia's Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, and said nearly half of Somalia's population needs urgent aid. The World Health Organization said five more regions in southern Somalia are on the brink of famine.

Relief groups are searching for ways to deliver life-saving aid inside the country to save lives and prevent the mass exodus of Somalis to overcrowded camps in neighboring countries.

Earlier this month, the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab said it would allow international aid workers into the country, after previously banning them. But last week the group changed its mind. Spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage accused the U.N. of exaggerating the crisis for political reasons.