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UNICEF: Thousands of Somali Children at Risk

A Somali woman cooks food for her children in a camp set up for internally displaced people in Dinsoor, January 5, 2012.
A Somali woman cooks food for her children in a camp set up for internally displaced people in Dinsoor, January 5, 2012.

The United Nations Children's Fund warned that thousands of acutely malnourished children in Somalia are at risk of death because little money is available to help them. UNICEF said it has received only 12 percent of its $289 million emergency appeal for humanitarian operations this year.

The famine declared in southern Somalia last year is over. But, that does not mean that the crisis is finished. Somalia remains the world’s most complex humanitarian situation.  

The U.N. Children’s Fund reported that almost one-third of Somalis are unable to meet their essential food and non-food needs. About 70 percent of these people live in south and central Somalia, areas that have been wracked by conflict for years and recurrent drought.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said some 325,000 acutely malnourished children are in great need of assistance. She said her agency scaled up nutrition programs significantly between July and December at the peak of last year's crisis. But, those programs now are at risk.

“This work continues and it is a huge operation that is saving children’s lives every day… Those who are most severely acutely malnourished are at imminent risk of death.This is a fact," said Mercado.

"And those even moderately malnourished are also at significantly at higher risk of death. If we do not get funding, all of our programs will have to get cut back. That is just a fact," Mercado said.  

The chronic state of war in Somalia intensified late last year, when Ethiopia and Kenya sent in troops to fight militant group al-Shabab. The Islamist group has banned most foreign aid organizations from operating in the territory it controls, hampering efforts to assist many Somalis in need of food.

Mercado said insecurity and lack of access to affected areas remains a huge problem for aid agencies that are trying assist people in need.

“One big area where it has influenced our programs significantly is, for example, immunization where we have 1.9 million children who have not been reached by immunization in the south and central zones because of access restrictions." Mercado added.

"There are cases of measles now. The rains have just started and that generally brings with it a wave of disease," she added. "So, it is critical to reach those people in south-central Somalia with immunizations. 

UNICEF noted Somalia’s famine in 2011 was not a one-season crisis. It said the recovery from last year’s drought and famine remains extremely fragile. It warned additional shocks, such as poor rains, less access, more displacement and disease outbreaks could easily tip communities back into disaster.

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