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650,000 children acutely malnourished in Somalia

Allan Jacob / 5 August 2011

DUBAI — Frail children are bearing the full force of the drought and famine in Somalia, with 650,000 of them acutely malnourished in the south, the United Nations said on Thursday.

UN relief officials, speaking to Khaleej Times, said the worst famine-hit region received 653 metric tonnes of Corn Soya Blend in July, enough to feed 65,000 children, and 230 metric tonnes of therapeutic food to treat 16,000 severely malnourished children.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is feeding 1.5 million people in Somalia and is working to reach a further 2.2 million in the south. Jens Laerke, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the emergency response must be stepped up to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

‘‘Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died and hundreds of thousands more are facing starvation. A famine — which is a technical term for the worst possible situation of hunger in an area — has been declared in two regions in Somalia, and unless there is a massive increase in the humanitarian response, the famine will spread to five or six more regions. Food, drinking water and special nutrition for children is therefore on top of the requirements. But also medicines and health equipment are urgently needed,’’ he said.

The United Nations Special Representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga and his team of 30 have made several trips to Mogadishu to discuss various issues with the leadership and a wide range of Somali interlocutors.

In a statement received by Khaleej Times, he said the conditions in the country were appalling, but aid agencies were doing their best under the circumstances.’’ It is truly heart wrenching to see the images of the starving children and their desperate parents unable to provide any food. The appalling stories of suffering from those who remained inside Somalia and those who walked for days and weeks to the refugee camps have moved us all deeply. The UN family is doing everything it can to bring supplies into the country and the region.’’

There are confirmed cholera outbreaks in Mogadishu and several other towns and regions. Since January, nearly 4,000 acute watery diarrhea/cholera cases have been reported, but ‘‘this is the tip of the iceberg’’, according to the UN. Mainly infant children are hit by these outbreaks. Management of the cases and prevention such as chlorination of water is ongoing, however additional funds are required to maintain and scale up the response.

Laerke said the UN was counting on all donors, both those who had given in the past and new ones, to support a rapid and substantial scaling up of the response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa. ‘‘In general, the suffering is not diminishing and every day counts. The UN system is ready to beef up the response, but we need the funding to do so and unhindered access to those who need help.’’

Overall, for all affected countries — Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia — the requirements are $2.5 billion for the year. Of this, over $1 billion has been received.

According to the OCHA, the appeal for Somalia is the largest and is 40 per cent funded, but some $631 million is still required for relief efforts to bear fruit. The UN is negotiating with all groups, Al Shabab in particular, to reach people in need.

‘‘In areas where humanitarian agencies have been banned from operating, Somali NGO and UN staff work with local authorities to ensure that programmes continue. Negotiations with some groups have been extremely difficult but, irrespective of the difficulties, the humanitarian community remains engaged and open to dialogue.’’


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