The United Nations Children's Fund warns tens of thousands of children in famine-stricken Somalia could die in the coming weeks if they do not receive emergency assistance. UNICEF says life-saving therapeutic feeding programs must be urgently expanded.
The United Nations reports children are bearing the brunt of the disastrous drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. U.N. aid agencies report the situation is particularly bleak for children in Somalia.
The U.N. Children’s Fund says 1.5 million children in the south are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said this is half the total number of people facing hunger in the south of the country.
“As of August, 450,000 children between six months and five years old are estimated to be acutely malnourished, of which 190,000 are estimated to have the most severe level of malnutrition, when they are up to nine times more likely to die than a healthy child," said Mercado. "And, right now, in most regions of southern Somalia, one in six children is severely malnourished.”
Without urgent help, Mercado warns these children could die in a matter of weeks. However, she adds, once they are treated, these children can recover quickly.
The United Nations reported this week that famine has spread to a sixth region in Somalia. It says a total of 750,000 people are facing starvation over the next four months as famine conditions continue to spread.
UNICEF is supporting around 800 feeding centers across Somalia, including about 500 in the south. Mercado says the agency plans to more than double the number of severely malnourished children receiving aid from 7,500 a month to 17,000 a month.
She said UNICEF aims to reach every child and his or her family with food aid. Mercado said the goal is to reach 200,000 families per month over the next six months.
“We plan to reach over two million children, and more mothers and children through these nutrition centers that we support with other health services. And, we are doing also support for water and sanitation again through these community nutrition centers, as well as supporting IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] populations within Mogadishu and people on the road basically leaving in search of assistance elsewhere,” said Mercado.
Children most at risk
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have gone to Ethiopia and Kenya in search of food and other assistance. Data collected by the U.N. refugee agency in Ethiopia finds Somali children are the biggest victims of the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The survey shows children under the age of 18 are the largest refugee group, accounting for 80 percent of more than 120,000 refugees in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado region.
The UNHCR reports the Somali refugee children, like children in Somalia, are in very poor health. It says the high mortality rate among children with severe acute malnutrition and diseases is of great concern.