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Children in Somalia Facing Acute Malnutrition Crisis

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations reports hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia are facing an acute malnutrition crisis. It warns many of them will die if they do not receive international assistance immediately.

The United Nations says a combination of drought, economic collapse and the ongoing conflict has made Somalia the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It says almost half of Somalia's population of 7.5 million is in need of regular food aid.

It says these problems are compounded by Somalia's massive displacement - the world's highest. It reports more than one million people have been made homeless because of drought and war. And many of these people are forced to move two or three times a year.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, says Gedo and Central regions are facing a severe malnutrition crisis, exacerbated by lack of funding and a shortage of water.

He says the rate of acute malnutrition is above 20 percent. He says more than 200,000 children are acutely malnourished. He says some 60,000 of them suffer from severe malnutrition and are in need of immediate treatment in order to survive.

"Children will die and children are dying through malnutrition and diarrheal diseases," he said. "There are 200,000 children that are at risk at the moment now. If we are effective, the mortality rates will be managed. I think the fact that there is a global acute malnutrition rate, over 20%, is an indication that the risks of dying without intervention are extremely high."

The United Nations appeal for $113 million for assistance to Somalia this year has met with a very poor response. Bowden says only 19 percent of the money has been received.

He says most of that money has been earmarked for food aid to the detriment of other critical areas. He says the United Nations has received no funding for water and sanitation, health, security and education.

He says education is a particularly hard sell. He says governments do not understand how critically important education is for children, especially if they live in a violent society such as Somalia.

"Young children frequently find the use of an AK-47 and then are paid five or ten dollars by the insurgents more attractive than any other opportunities at the moment. Children have been caught up in the conflict. Education, I think, is an immediate requirement in providing them with the security and stability that they need and an alternative to violence, which has become endemic," he said.

Bowden says he thinks the recent political developments in Somalia are positive. He says he believes Somalia has a better chance of progress since the appointment of the new President and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

He urges international donors to take a chance on Somalia. He says despite news to the contrary, assistance is getting through to the people who need it and governments should support these needs.

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