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Race against time to avert famine in Somalia: UN agencies

The United Nations warned Monday of a race against time to prevent famine in Somalia, with more than 200,000 people on the brink of starvation amid a record-breaking drought.

Some 7.1 million people – nearly half the population – were going hungry but the situation for 213,000 of the worst affected was catastrophic and urgent, a new assessment by UN agencies showed.

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Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed in the Horn of Africa, with a fifth expected on the way, causing the worst drought in 40 years and a major hunger crisis spanning Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

But the level of need in Somalia is so great – and so underfunded – that aid groups are dedicating what resources they have to averting a repeat of a 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people.

“We must act immediately to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” El-Khidir Daloum, the World Food Program’s country director in Somalia, said in a statement.

“The lives of the most vulnerable are already at risk from malnutrition and hunger, and we cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act. It’s a race against time to prevent famine.”

The number of people facing “catastrophic hunger and starvation” had surged 160 percent since April, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Network.

More parts of Somalia were at risk of famine, particularly in the south where the presence of extremists from the al-Shabaab group makes humanitarian access a challenge.

Three million livestock had died because of drought since the middle of 2021, a terrible toll in a largely pastoral country where families rely on their herds for meat, milk and trade.

Food prices are also soaring, spurred by failed harvests locally and surging costs for imports caused in part by the war in Ukraine.

Less than 20 percent of the money needed to avoid a famine had been raised putting hundreds of thousands “at a very real risk of starvation and death,” said the FAO’s representative in Somalia, Etienne Peterschmitt.

“We’re calling on the international community to act fast while we still have some hope of preventing… widespread famine in Somalia,” he said.

East Africa endured a harrowing drought in 2017 but early humanitarian action averted a famine in Somalia.

In contrast, 260,000 people – half of them children under the age of six – died of hunger or hunger-related disorders when a famine struck the country in 2011.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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