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500 000 Somali children face death in world’s worst famine this century

UNICEF has warned that more than 500 000 Somali children under five are expected to suffer severe acute malnutrition and risk death from famine this year, a number unseen in any country this century, as the Horn of Africa region faces a fifth consecutive failed rainy season and global food prices surge.

The projection is more severe than in 2011, when famine killed more than a quarter of a million Somalis, half of whom were children, reports Reuters.

“It’s a pending nightmare,” James Elder, spokesperson for the UN children’s agency UNICEF said, adding that the prediction of 513 000 children likely to suffer from severe malnutrition was an increase of 30% from an estimate in June.

Elder said nutrition centres across Somalia were already at maximum capacity and infants were receiving treatment on the floor. “You’ve got critically ill children who, without treatment, may die in a matter of hours,” he said.

“Some 730 children have already been reported to have died in food and nutrition centres across the country between January and July this year but the numbers could be more as many deaths go unreported,” said UNICEF Somalia representative Wafaa Saeed.

The centres are for children with severe acute malnutrition as well as illnesses such as measles, cholera or malaria and offer a snapshot of the situation across the country.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that too many people will have already died in the country by the time a hunger emergency is declared. “The alarm bells are ringing loudly," Peter Maurer said, calling for faster action by the international community.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said America was “gravely concerned by this dire projection and the significant scale of need throughout the country and region”, also urging for additional help for Somalia from the international community.

An official in one Somali region described famished people walking long distances with children on their shoulders to escape from drought as well as violence inflicted by Al Shabaab militants. A number of children died along the way.

Ahmed Shire, information Minister for the state of Glamudug, north of the capital Mogadishu, said 210 people had died from malnutrition in recent months.

“Al Shabaab burnt five towns completely, burning even the wells to ashes,” he told Reuters. “These people were struggling with the drought that killed half of their animals. Al Shabaab looted the remaining animals.”

Shire said roughly 1 000 families, each with at least seven children, had fled the area and could not be rescued because of the threat of attacks. Al Shabaab, an Islamist group linked to al Qaeda, has been attacking military and civilian targets for more than a decade.

UNICEF said disease outbreaks were increasing among children, with around 13 000 suspected measles cases reported in recent months, of which 78% were children under five.

Faduma Abdiqadir Warsame, who manages nine camps for displaced people on the outskirts of Mogadishu, said her team had buried 115 children and elderly people in the past three months.


Reuters article – Half a million Somali children face hunger in world's worst famine this century (Open access)


Reuters article – More than 700 children have died in Somalia nutrition centres, U.N. says (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


UFS: Child malnutrition – human rights violation and slow violence against children


Ethiopian healthcare buckles under malnutrition crisis


Extreme heat exacerbating global health risks — UN scientific report


World hunger growing — WHO State of Food Security and Nutrition report





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