The death rate among drought-stricken Somalis arriving at refugee camps has reached several times above levels seen in emergency situations, the UN refugees agency has said.
"The situation in Dolo Ado is very dire," said the UNHCR's chief of public health section, Paul Spiegel, referring to the Ethiopian refugee camp where thousands of Somali refugees have sought shelter in recent weeks.
Mortality rate in June reached 7.4 deaths per 10,000 a day, sharply above the sub-Saharan baseline rate of 0.5 and the emergency situation of above one death.
"It's 15 times the baseline and the preponderance of the deaths are among under-five children," said Spiegel, adding that death rates for young children are generally over twice that of the overall population.
The United States yesterday urged Somalia's Shebab rebels to let humanitarian workers operate unhindered, saying that the Al-Qaeda-inspired movement was a major reason for the country's hunger crisis.
The Shebab expelled foreign aid groups two years ago, accusing them of being Western spies and Christian crusaders. But the group recently said it would allow in relief, faced with the Horn of Africa's worst food crisis in years.
"Al Shebab's activities have clearly made the current situation much worse," Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters.
"We call on all of those in south-central Somalia who have it within their authority to allow refugee groups and organizations to operate there to do so," he said.
A famine is generally declared when the mortality rate reaches over two deaths per 10,000 person per day, and when wasting of above 30 percent occurs across an entire region, according to UN criteria.