Somalia: Malnutrition hits record high as drought persists

Report
from International Committee of the Red Cross
Published on 06 Mar 2017 View Original

More and more children in Somalia are suffering from malnutrition. The drought is worsening, crops have failed, and there are fears of a famine. Children under five are the first to suffer.

Mothers are streaming into Kismayo General Hospital’s stabilisation centre. Supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, it is one of the few places in South and Central Somalia where malnourished children can be treated. By the end of February this year, 369 new patients had been admitted, a worrying 40 per cent increase on the same period last year.

Among them is Fatuma Ali, with five month old Abdikaafi Jimaale. He weighs just over three kilogrammes, a normal weight for a new born, but not for a five month old. “I’m from the rural area, and the drought has led me here”, explains Fatuma.. “The baby’s illness is why I came. I’m his grandmother, not his mother. He is the first born of my daughter, she has died.”

Abdikaafi Jimaale is not alone. After two failed rainy seasons, over half of Somalia’s population is short of food. Mohamed Gedi, who runs the stabilisation centre, is alarmed by the growing numbers of children who are arriving.

“Since November 2016, we are feeling the strain as the number of patients increase” says Mr Gedi. “These patients are coming from the rural areas, the pastoral areas. The farmers have had their crops fail twice now.”

Children, especially those under five, are a key warning sign of how desperate the food shortage is. Their bodies handle food differently from those of adults: children burn far more energy per kilo of body weight, and that means they need to eat more often. At the centre, the children are weighed, and progress charts with a time line for weight gain are drawn up. Ten month old Abdirahman Bakar Ali came to the centre in January, severely malnourished and suffering from measles. He has made good progress and could be released soon, but his mother Sahra Osman, who has nine other children, is worried about the continued drought.

“We work on the farm,” she explains. “But it’s so dry. The ground is so dry; can you grow anything? Nothing grows in that dry ground. A ground that dry can’t produce.”

“The parents are eating the food their children leave behind,” Sahra continues. “If we don’t get anything we sleep. We are grown ups, we can persevere. But the young children cannot.“

At the centre, the children are put on a therapeutic feeding program: they receive nutritional milk between six and eight times a day, depending on how serious their condition is. Some children have complications: pneumonia, kwashiorkor, or anemia. They are admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. These children often lack the strength to eat, they are listless, their appetite has almost disappeared, and their milk has to be given through a nasal tube.

“The last six months have been really bad,” says Mr Gedi. “It feels like the 2011 drought crisis when refugees fled to Dadaab, {in Kenya.} Then, around 50,000 people died of malnutrition. That is what is making people afraid. Because for the last four months the number of patients keeps increasing.”

The Kismayo Centre provides a safe haven where mothers can stay with their children while they recover. There are washing facilities, and three good meals a day are provided for family members. {Mothers also receive advice and training on breast feeding, and on nutrition.}

But across Somalia, the World Health Organisation estimates that 363,000 children are acutely malnourished, 70,000 in such a serious condition that they will need therapeutic feeding to survive. The Kismayo Centre, and another ICRC supported stabilisation centre in Baidoa, are providing vital, life saving support for some of these children, but there are not enough places for all of them, and the drought continues.

Download footage from ICRC Video Newsroom www.icrcnewsroom.org

For further information, please contact:

Jason Straziuso, ICRC Nairobi: +254 733 622 026

Pedram Yazdi, ICRC Nairobi: + 254 700 888 131

Aurelie Lachant, ICRC Geneva: +41 79 244 64 05

To find out what the ICRC is doing to assist drought affected people in Somalia, go to

https://www.icrc.org/en/where-we-work/africa/somalia

or visit the ICRC Somalia blog: www. http://blogs.icrc.org/somalia

For more Broll footage from ICRC in Somalia, click here:

https://goo.gl/IBhpEs

https://goo.gl/kX3Uzw

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