SOMALIA – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that thousands of severely malnourished boys and girls in Somalia are at risk of dying amid historic drought in the Horn of Africa and the vast Sahel region.

UNICEF urged healthcare development partners to rapidly scale up humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa as drought worsens while noting that the latest rates reveal some 44,000 admissions since August, or one child a minute.

In addition, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) team in Somalia has revised its 2022 appeal from US$1.46 billion to US$2.26 billion, a 55 per cent increase since the launch at the start of the year.

Most of the funding, 80 per cent, is for drought response. While it is late in the year to revise an annual appeal, it was deemed essential because humanitarian needs have increased steeply, while the funding ask has not,” said Jens Laerke, OCHA Spokesperson.

Additionally, United Nations (UN) agencies have been warning for months about the looming famine in the Horn of Africa, where the worst drought in 40 years is affecting more than 20 million people across several countries.

Without greater action and investment, we are facing the death of children on a scale not seen in half a century. A child is admitted to a health facility for treatment of severe acute malnutrition “every single minute of every single day,” the UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder said.

He observed that severely malnourished children are up to 11 times more likely to die of diarrhoea and measles than well-nourished children, adding that with rates such as these, Somalia is on the brink of a tragedy at a scale not seen in decades.

Staff have treated more than 300,000 children for severe acute malnutrition this year so far, while UNICEF’s emergency water trucking has reached 500,000 people in the last three months. But funding challenges remain,” Mr. Elder said.

The UNICEF Spokesperson gave the crisis a human face, specifically that of a child “whose life hangs in the balance” while outlining how UNICEF is deploying mobile teams to “find and treat” children with malnutrition, including in hard-to-access locations.

Although thousands of these children have made it to treatment centres, carried by mothers who have walked for days, he feared for those who are not able to reach support, particularly in a country where access to healthcare is continually hampered by terrorism and threats to aid workers.

When people speak of the crisis facing Somalia today, it has become common for frightful comparisons to be made with the famine of 2011 when 260,000 people died. However, everything I am hearing on the ground – from nutritionists to pastoralists – is that things today actually look worse,” said Mr. Elder.

He explained that in 2011, after three failed rains, the affected population was half of what it is now, and the overall conditions including rain and harvest were on the mend.

He further said that in Somalia, famine is projected in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts in Bay Region between this month and December, if aid does not reach those most in need.

Today, it’s been four failed rains; the forecast for the fifth rains is looking pretty grim, and the affected population is twice the size of 2011. Things are bad and every sign indicates that they are going to get worse,” the UNICEF Spokesperson concluded.

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