The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that thousands of malnourished boys and girls in Somalia were at risk of dying.
While giving the warning on Tuesday October 18, 2022, the agency urged donors to step up support.
UNICEF’s spokesperson, James Elder, told journalists in Geneva that without greater action and investment, “we are facing the death of children on a scale not seen in half a century.”
According to him, a child is admitted to a health facility for treatment of severe acute malnutrition every single minute of every single day.
Latest rates reveal some 44,000 admissions since August, or one child a minute.
“Severely malnourished children are up to 11 times more likely to die of diarrhoea and measles than well-nourished children. With rates such as these, Somalia is on the brink of a tragedy at a scale not seen in decades,” said Mr Elder.
UN agencies have been warning for months about the looming famine in the Horn of Africa, where the worst drought in 40 years is affecting more than 20 million people across several countries.
In Somalia, famine is projected in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts in Bay Region between October and December, if aid does not reach those most in need, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, reported on Tuesday.
“When people speak of the crisis facing Somalia today, it has become common for frightful comparisons to be made with the famine of 2011 when 260,000 people died.
“However, everything I am hearing on the ground – from nutritionists to pastoralists – is that things today actually look worse,” Mr Elder said.
In 2011, the spokesperson said after three failed rains, the affected population was half of what it is now, and the overall conditions – rain and harvest – were on the mend.
“Today: it’s been four failed rains; the forecast for the fifth rains is looking pretty grim, and the affected population is twice the size of 2011.
“Things are bad and every sign indicates that they are going to get worse,” he said.
The UNICEF spokesperson gave the crisis a human face, specifically that of a child “whose life hangs in the balance.”
Mr Elder outlined how UNICEF was deploying mobile teams to “find and treat” children with malnutrition, including in hard-to-access locations.
Staff have treated more than 300,000 children for severe acute malnutrition this year so far, while UNICEF’s emergency water trucking has reached 500,000 people in the last three months. “But funding challenges remain,” he stated.
While UNICEF has received “substantial funds” in the past months from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Commission, but Mr Elder stressed that long-term funding would be critical “to prevent famine from happening, again, and again.”