Cholera Cases Soar as Somalia Spirals Towards Famine

Save the Children deploys emergency cholera task force to respond to outbreak

Somalia Baby
Photo Credit: Tom Pilston/Save the Children

East Africa Child Relief Fund

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 9, 2017) — The international community is repeating the failures that led to the deaths of over a quarter-of-a-million Somalis in 2011, Save the Children warns. The charity’s health and nutrition clinics are reporting ‘all the early warnings signs’ of an avoidable catastrophe, with deaths from cholera and acute diarrhoea rising sharply.

These diseases are death sentences for children whose bodies have been weakened by hunger. More than 8,400 cases of the diseases have already been confirmed in 2017, 200 of which have been fatal. Save the Children officials are warning that the scale of the suffering is even greater than at the equivalent stage in 2011.

The number of cases has relentlessly increased since the drought began late last year; from fewer than 200 in the first week of November to nearly 1,400 in the second week of February. Save the Children has dispatched an emergency treatment team to the epicenter of the cholera crisis, across the Bay region and its capital Baidoa, where 72 percent of the cases have been reported.

The drought is one of the worst in living memory – and far more severe and protracted than the 2011 drought. Crops have been destroyed, pastoralists’ herds have been decimated, and many communities have been left without access to safe water.

Around 1 million Somali children are predicted to become malnourished this year, with almost 200,000 at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.

"Saving these lives and rebuilding livelihoods will require concerted action by the international community – and that action needs to start now," said Hassan Noor Saadi, Save the Children’s Country Director in Somalia.

Save the Children and other agencies are reporting a dramatic deterioration in child health and nutritional status. Among the most worrying indicators in addition to cholera are:

• Acute Respiratory Infections: doctors in Save the Children’s 72 clinics in Puntland are reporting high levels of pneumonia among children of pastoralists and farmers.

• Mass displacement: an estimated 250,000 people have been displaced as a result of the drought. Many of them have moved to camps lacking even the most basic health, nutrition, water and sanitation services.

• Food insecurity: around half of the country – some 6.2 million people – are in urgent need of support.

"Given the weight of the evidence, the scale of suffering and the memory of 2011, the international community’s response to the crisis facing Somalia’s children is shamefully inadequate," said Noor.

"The surge in deaths during the 2011 drought happened in April – and the drought was less severe then. The international community ignored the early warning signs, failed to act decisively and waited until July to declare a famine. They are now repeating most of those mistakes."

Save the Children is calling on aid donors to deliver immediate financing for Somalia. An estimated $825 million needs to be delivered by June to keep people alive and start the recovery process for immediate lifesaving investments and support for reconstruction. Just under half that amount has been pledged to date.

Save the Children is calling on the international community to work together and urgently increase funding to stop the drought from becoming a full-blown humanitarian disaster.

"We need to see the G7, other donors, and UN agencies drawing up a plan for delivering real money" said Noor.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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