Somalia: malnutrition brings children to the brink of death

Geneva/Nairobi (ICRC) – The nutritional state of children under five years of age in central and southern Somalia is a cause for great alarm.

Levels of malnutrition have reached a new peak and are currently the highest in the world, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today. In some parts of Somalia, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition has almost doubled since March.

“A dramatic increase in cases of malnutrition can be observed even in the Bay and Lower Shabelle regions, usually described as the country’s breadbaskets, where nearly 11 per cent of children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition,” said Andrea Heath, the ICRC’s economic-security coordinator for Somalia.

The ICRC assessment includes data from 39 clinics and 18 outpatient therapeutic feeding centres. The facilities are run by the Somali Red Crescent Society with support from the ICRC.

“These deeply disturbing findings show that the population is no longer able to cope with harsh climate conditions, such as the current drought, while at the same time struggling to survive armed conflict and other violence,” said Ms Heath. “The groups hardest hit are rain-fed farmers and pastoralists who have not been able to gain access to alternative pastureland. Significant crop failures, very high livestock losses, increased food prices, recurrent fighting and the absence of humanitarian aid are the main reasons that an already desperate situation has become even worse in many parts of central and southern Somalia.”

As a first step in responding to the crisis, the ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent will expand services in existing outpatient therapeutic feeding centres and health-care facilities. Ten new feeding centres will be opened in Bakool, Gedo and the Afgoye corridor. Additional mobile teams made up of nurses and nutritional specialists will visit people in the areas worst affected. In addition, a new feeding programme supplementing the regular therapeutic feeding will be launched for malnourished children under five and other vulnerable groups, such as pregnant and lactating women.

Since October 2010, the ICRC has distributed emergency supplies to half a million people throughout Somalia and has delivered water to almost a million.

For further information, please contact:
Yves van Loo, ICRC Somalia, tel: +254 272 3963 or +254 736 084 015
Anna Schaaf, ICRC Nairobi, tel: +254 20 2723 963/4 or +254 722 51 27 28
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17