A United Nations agency report says 600,000 people in southern Somalia, including people in and around the capital Mogadishu, are suffering from severe malnutrition and nearly 300,000 of those require immediate assistance. The report blames the humanitarian crisis on a combination of factors, including poor rains, disruptions in trade caused by the ongoing conflict in Mogadishu, and hyperinflation that has made food goods unaffordable for many people. Caroline Sawyer reports from the VOA office in Nairobi, Kenya.
This year's harvest from the Shebelle region in southern Somalia is the worst seen in ten years according to the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization.
Shebelle is the center of Somalia's food production, and this is now the second, and in some areas, the third consecutive poor harvest, resulting in a national food crisis.
In the past, Shebelle farmers were able to cope when their crops failed by finding work in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. But continuing violence in the city between insurgents and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Government Forces, means alternative ways of making a living have been cut off.
Aid workers say malnutrition rates in the southern Somalia region are over 50 percent which is above the international humanitarian emergency threshold and one in 20 children are currently suffering severe malnutrition.
Chief Technical Advisor at the Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia, Cindy Holleman, says this is not yet a famine situation, but if humanitarian aid is not mobilized immediately, there is a big concern that the situation will get worse.
"It is the multiple impact that the region is reeling from," said Holleman. "One is the poor crops, but the other is the very high rates of inflation. Just within the last four or five months you are seeing price increases for rice, cereal, sugar, vegetable oil increasing 66 percent, so huge inflationary impact."
For the past three months, Somalia's inflation rates have been between 40 and 60 percent. According to economists, this has been caused by a 37 percent devaluation in the Somali shilling since January after a dramatic increase in the money supply, as well as a lack of confidence in the economy.
The United Nations has reported that over 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu since early 2007, many of them going to the Shebelle region. These displaced families have insufficient access to food, clean water or sanitation and as a result many are suffering from diarrhea.
Cindy Holleman says humanitarian aid alone will not solve this emergency.
"There needs to be advocacy at all levels to cease the civil insecurity and political instability and that is going to be critical not only to ensure greater humanitarian access to be able to meet the needs of the crisis but also to encourage the resumption of economic activities in the region," said Holleman. "To give people the opportunity to begin to recover and to prevent a further slide into a humanitarian crisis."
Ugandan military chiefs confirmed Thursday they are sending 250 additional soldiers to Mogadishu later this month to back up the African Union peacekeeping forces which have been in the country since January.