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UNICEF Warns Thousands of Children Could Die in Somalia Without Aid 

The U.N. Children's Fund warns tens of thousands of children in Somalia could die unless international donors immediately provide the money needed to keep them alive. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva, UNICEF says it will be forced to close a number of life-saving programs without the money needed to keep them running.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports two million people, or one-quarter of Somalia's population, are totally dependent upon emergency assistance for their survival.

The UNICEF Representative for Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen, says children are the most vulnerable of all and many will die unless UNICEF receives $10 million within the next two weeks to maintain life-saving programs.

"For the time being, we have 90,000 children who need immediate, nutritional, supplementary and therapeutic feeding. If we are not able to do so, these kids will die," said Christian Balslev-Olesen.

Balslev-Olesen says malnutrition levels among Somali children are between 23 and 27 percent. He says UNICEF and its partners run 130 nutritional programs and many of these centers will be forced to close unless the funding needed to keep them open is forthcoming.

He says children who do not get enough to eat are extremely vulnerable to the smallest infection. Even a common cold, he says, could be deadly for a severely malnourished child.

"Unless, we act quickly, immediately, you will see a high number of children, especially, people dying because of the insecurity, the number of incidents of cholera, diarrhea that we do see in this area where you have a high concentration on IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons]. And, unless we are able to address the very basic needs of water and food, you will see a time bomb soon exploding in Somalia," he said.

UNICEF calls Somalia a forgotten country, which probably explains why it, so far, has received nothing from its $47-million appeal for this year. The statistics paint a dismal picture of life. Somalia has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.

Only 22 percent of the children are enrolled in primary school, the lowest number in the world. The country has not had a functioning government for 16 years and hyperinflation is such that even people with a bit of money cannot afford to buy anything in the market.

Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced because of the ongoing conflict. And, Balslev-Olesen says there has been a dramatic increase in sexual violence, rape and harassment by all parties - militia, Ethiopian soldiers, and insurgents.

He says Somalia is the country where children face the most difficult life conditions.