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Somalia: As hunger spreads, babies start to die

More than 6 million Somalis need aid to survive.

After rains failed for four consecutive seasons, the worst drought in 40 years has shrivelled their beans and maize and dotted scrubland with the corpses of their goats and donkeys. read more

With a global focus on Ukraine, aid agencies and the United Nations are desperate to attract attention to a calamity they say is shaping up to be comparable to Somalia's 2011 famine. More than a quarter of a million people died then, mostly children under five.

Early intervention is crucial to stave off famine looming over six areas of Somalia, which is home to around 15 million people in a region highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The U.N. plan to provide emergency aid is only 15% funded.

So far, 2.8 million people have received aid. Another 3.1 million could be helped if more money came in.

The rest are out of reach, residing in parched hinterlands where an Islamist insurgency holds sway.

"We need the cash to avert the risk of famine," said Rukia Yacoub, deputy director for the World Food Programme in East Africa.

Hunger often weakens the children before diseases claim them. Asha Ali Osman, 25, lost her three-year-old and four-year-old to measles a month ago.

Now she cradles her youngest, a baby, as she waits to secure the girl a vaccination in Dollow.

"I feel so much pain because I cannot even breastfeed her," she said softly. "When my children are hungry, I can beg for some sugar water from a neighbour. Or sometimes we just lie down together, and cry."