Workers at Save the Children-supported health clinics and hospitals in Puntland – one of the areas hardest hit by drought in Somalia – are seeing a significant increase in severe malnutrition cases among children coming through their doors.
Amid a sharp deterioration in the situation, Save the Children is warning that the country is reaching a ‘tipping point’ that could be far worse than the 2011 famine, which claimed 260,000 lives.
As international donors prepare to meet in London on Thursday, the aid organisation is calling on them to provide desperately needed funds to prevent this needless loss of life.
An estimated 363,000 children are already suffering from malnutrition in Somalia, 71,000 of them severe cases. The Somalia Nutrition Cluster is predicting this number could rise to 944,000 cases in 2017, 185,000 of them severe, unless urgent aid is provided to the severely drought-stricken country. The United Nations has warned that more than 50,000 children are now facing death.
“What we’re seeing on the ground suggests we’re at a tipping point – a significant worsening of malnutrition cases tells us a famine isn't far off,” said Hassan Saadi Noor, Save the Children’s Country Director in Somalia.
“We’re on the verge of a catastrophe similar to 2011 – or worse, as conditions now are markedly worse than in the lead-up to that event. A quarter of a million lives were needlessly lost then, and we know that action at this stage can make a difference. The international community must step up to ensure that tragic moment in history isn’t repeated.”
Conditions for hungry children and their families in Somalia are worsening, with reports from the hardest-hit areas suggesting some people are now going days without food and are resorting to feeding livestock with cardboard in a desperate attempt to keep their remaining animals alive.
In the Puntland village of Yaka, Iftin Yusuf Mohamed, a nurse working at the local maternal and child health clinic, said the conditions were getting worse every day.
She added that a massive influx of people into the region looking for greener pasture had led to high levels of malnutrition and hunger, and the assistance available was not enough to keep up with the need.
“There is a real shortage of food, medication and of water supplies, and if we don’t get it now then it could be a human tragedy with high mortality rates,” she said.
At the same clinic, Amina, 30, cradled Aasiya*, the severely malnourished 10-month-old baby under her care. The family moved from the countryside, joining a camp on the edge of town after all but two of their 50 sheep died.
Amina said the community was sharing what it could to keep each other going, and that one of her neighbours had gone without food for three days before her family gave them some of the little they had. But she said there are times she cannot feed baby Aasiya* enough food and she was deeply worried about what to do when she cries with hunger.
“They are there asking you to feed them, and you’re just helpless and in despair, and you really know it, particularly when they all cry from hunger.”
In the Puntland capital of Garowe, Mohamed’s child Abdifatax* is being treated for severe malnutrition at a specialist clinic at the local hospital. His condition was so severe that he is now being treated through a feeding tube.
“My son was sick for 20 days. This illness worried me a lot. After about two weeks of being ill, my son looked severely malnourished, he was vomiting and had diarrhoea,” said Mohamed. “But he has received a lot of nourishing treatment these past three days, thank God.”
Mohamed and his relatives travel between the countryside and Garowe to tend to livestock, but he says most of the animals have now died.
“In normal times, people use livestock to nourish themselves but now the opposite is happening, where cardboard and beans are sent from the city to feed the animals in the countryside.”
Save the Children requires $100 million to reach 2.5 million Somalis affected by the crisis, and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is calling on the international community to provide $863.5 million in lifesaving funds.
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Natasha Dos Santos
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Notes to editors
In some parts of Somalia, water prices are now fifteen times higher than they were pre-drought, and food prices tell a similar story. The situation has forced families to survive on traditional systems of credit and humanitarian assistance – but local authorities say these credit systems are now severely overstretched and in many areas humanitarian assistance is not keeping pace with the rapidly growing need.
In recent months the widespread drought across South Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland, the worst since 1950, has intensified following the failure of successive seasonal rains.