- (Reuters/Feisal Omar)
According to United States aid official Nancy Lindborg, the U.S. has estimated that upwards of 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died in the last 90 days since the devastating famine hit Somalia.
The U.S. estimate is the first precise death toll from the crisis that has ravaged the Horn of Africa and been particularly acute in war-torn-Al-Shabab ridden Somalia.
The entire Horn of Africa is suffering, however, Somalia with nearly 3 million people at risk of starvation, has been the hardest hit by the worst drought the region has experienced in 60 years.
Yesterday, the U.N. expanded the number of famine zones present in Somalia, bringing the number from 2 up to 5.
The concern in Somalia is so vast that U.S. officials moved forward this week to ensure aid organizations that they would not face prosecution by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) if humanitarian aid lands in the hands of terrorist groups such as Al-Shabab.
Aid groups have largely left the region due to the dual threat of prosecution from the U.S. and extremism from Al-Shabab.
Prosecution for aid groups in the region could potentially come from paying tolls or "taxes" to terrorist groups in order to have access to terrorist controlled territory and people.
A U.S. official told reporters, "We are working to reassure humanitarian assistance organizations that making a good faith effort to help people in need will not result in prosecution."
The official added, "I think there is some risk of diversion but the dimensions of the crisis are such that we have to put assistance first."
Children have been identified as the most vulnerable to the famine, with the U.N. estimating that 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished. As such, the famine is being referred to as "The Children's Famine."
Christians also face an added threat in Somalia due to their religious orientation. Jonathan Racho, of International Christian Concern, has expressed concerns that the current famine situation in Somalia will only add to the threat against Christians presented by Al-Shabab.