Famine spreads to five areas in Southern Somalia Tens of thousands of children died

4 August 2011

This is a children’s famine! Famine was declared in three new areas of Southern Somalia yesterday. Almost 10 percent of the children under five die every three months in areas which are officially in famine. To date, tens of thousands of children in Southern Somalia have already died.

The three new areas that were declared famine are the agropastoral areas of Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor IDP settlement, and the Mogadishu IDP community. These three areas join the Bakool agropastoral livelihood zone and the Lower Shabelle region, where famine was declared on 20 July, and increased the famine areas to five now.

In all areas are above the emergency threshold of global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates are well above 15% emergency and in some are more than three times higher. The severe acute malnutrition (SAM) prevalence was 16.9%. This means that if those malnourished children not able to get help immediately, they will probably die within weeks.

This is absolutely more than a food crisis, it is a crisis for child survival. In addition to lack of food and water, malnourished children are extremely susceptible to killer diseases, including measles, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Malaria and measles epidemics are also expected when the rains come in October.

To make things worse, women and children in affected areas are forced to flee in search humanitarian assistance. Their vulnerability increases and they face additional dangers to their wellbeing such as sexual and physical violence and abuse, while unaccompanied children are at especially high risk of abuse and exploitation.

Everything must be done to reach children in the worst affected regions as quickly as possible to prevent further loss of life. UNICEF provides assistance to all affected populations where ever they are currently located. The priority is to reach people before they have to move from their homes and undertake the hazardous journey into Mogadishu, other parts of the countries or neighbouring countries.

Last month, UNICEF has already delivered nutrition supplies including 342 metric tons of ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat 23,300 malnourished children in Somalia. Blanket supplementary feeding of 640 metric tons has also been launched for 25,600 families. With the therapeutic feeding, children can fully recuperate in four to six weeks. To further expand the nutrition campaign, 11 flights carrying life-saving nutrition supplies will arrive in Mogadishu this week.

UNICEF has also started a vaccination campaign for protecting malnourished children from killer disease in Southern Somalia last week. 171,000 children up to 15 years of age in Mogadishu, Baidoa and Gedo have already immunised against measles. Provided access is ensured, UNICEF, in partnership with WHO, hopes to expand the coverage of measles for all children to reach a total of 2.5 million children.

“Individuals and government donors have been generous, but more is needed to match the urgent and massive response required to save children’s lives. We urge all donors - not just those who have given generously in the past – for their support.” said Ms Irene Chan, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF.

Out of the request appeal for HK$2.45 billion (US$314 million), there is still a shortfall of over HK$1.56 billion (US$200 million), while Somalia alone needs HK$1.02 billion (US$131 million) over the next six months to scale up operations.

As of yesterday, Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF (HKCU) has fundraised HK$1.9 million in support of the relief operation in the Horn of Africa. In a further boost for the relief effort, from 7-20 Aug 2011 all donations to the HKCU and Cathay Pacific ‘Change for Good’ inflight fundraising programme will be channelled to emergency relief in the Horn of Africa.