Catastrophic hunger levels in Somalia have left more than 513,000 children at risk of dying, 173,000 more than during the 2011 famine, UN humanitarians warned.
In a call for immediate funding to help vulnerable communities hit by successive droughts, high food prices and conflict, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that the emergency shows no signs of letting up.
Without action, famine “will occur within the next few weeks”, FAO said.
A ‘nightmare’ not seen this century
During the famine of 2011, 340,000 children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told journalists in Geneva. “Today it’s 513,000,” he added. “It’s a pending nightmare we have not seen this century.”
According to FAO, approximately 6.7 million people across Somalia will likely endure high levels of acute food insecurity between October and December this year (IPC Phase 3 or above).
At least 330,000 children in Somalia need life-saving treatment for severe wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition – much more than the 190,000 who required treatment during the country’s 2011 famine.
Somalia has reached a tipping point. The lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at immediate risk, according to the latest food security and nutrition analysis. Famine is unfolding in two areas in the Bay region (Baidoa and Burhakaba districts) in South-Central Somalia, and will likely last until March 2023 if humanitarian aid is not significantly and immediately scaled up.
According to FAO, Starvation and death are likely already occurring. During the 2011 famine, about 50 per cent of the more than 250,000 people who died, did so before the official declaration. At least half were children.
Livestock dropping dead
In pastoral communities where herders have been desperately searching for pasture, “they are now watching their livestock drop dead like flies”, said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.
The perilous situation of those forced from their homes by hunger in Baidoa town of Bay region in Southern Somalia, is particularly concerning, Mr. Peterschmitt added.
In a call for radical change to stop famine happening again, UNICEF’s Mr. Elder described the disturbing scenes already playing out in Somalia’s worst-affected region.
Everyday bugs now deadly
“Children are already dying,” he said. “Our partners report that some stabilization centres are in fact full and critically-ill children are receiving treatment on the floor.”
With greater funding, more severe and acutely malnourished children can be given lifesaving food which will make them strong enough to ward off diseases, just like healthier youngsters.
“This is not just about nutrition, severely malnourished children are in fact up to 11 times more likely to die from things like diarrhoea and measles than well-nourished boys and girls,” Mr. Elder said, adding that both diseases “are spiking” in the worst-hit areas.
In June, UNICEF reported that 386,000 children aged six to 59 months needed treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “That’s increased (today) to more than half a million, to 513,000; that’s a 33 per cent increase. Said one more way, it means 127,000 more children are at risk of death,” Mr. Elder said.
This post was originally published by the UN News Centre. Click here to read.