Drought-hit Somalia One Step Closer to Famine

New study shows alarming increase in severe malnutrition among children

Mother getting water in Somalia
Hoodo, a mother of eight, collects water following a Save the Children water delivery in Gaatama village outside Burao in drought-affected Somaliland. Photo by Evan Schuurman/Save the Children.

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 20, 2017) — Life-threatening child malnutrition rates continue to rise to alarming levels in drought affected Somalia, a new study from Save the Children reveals.

The survey results found "very critical" levels of severe malnutrition in two of six districts assessed in some of the worst affected parts of Somalia, which could spell disaster for a country where livelihoods have already been decimated and the economy crippled by the drought.

Seven percent of all children under five in the districts of Badhan and Adado in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia, are severely malnourished. The assessment also found exceptionally high rates of stunting in Hudur district, another part of Somalia heavily impacted by drought and an area devastated by the famine in 2011.

Less than 10 percent of children in Somalia are currently registered in a nutrition program according to the study, which warns that children could start dying "in the near future" unless immediate action is taken, including a major and rapid increase of nutrition outreach services.

"We are on the brink of a massive catastrophe in Somalia with the death of three quarters of the country’s livestock, a rapid rise of children suffering severe malnutrition and the depletion of water stores in dozens of communities," said Hassan Saadi Noor, Save the Children’s Country Director in Somalia.

"Despite April traditionally being the wettest month of the year for much of the country, it has barely rained so far. Our fear is that if this pattern continues and the rainy season fails again, we could start seeing children dying in significant numbers.

"Donors have stepped up in recent months, however the scale of this crisis is so large that even more funding is needed to address malnutrition directly, including improving access to food and water to prevent it in the first place. Regardless of whether the rains come or not, children must be treated for malnutrition now."

Save the Children’s mobile health teams in Somaliland also reported a dramatic increase in the proportion of children they have screened who are moderately or severely malnourished, rising from 11 percent to 26 percent between February and March.

"The last two or three months have been devastating right across Somalia. You see the dead animals everywhere here, and there isn’t any pasture left in many parts," Mr. Noor said.

"People have literally run out of water and children are getting sick all the time. Families have exhausted every option they had and are now left to wait for help and pray for rain. And as is often the case, it’s the children who are hardest hit. Of the 6 million people in a state of emergency across Somalia, half are children, struggling to survive without enough food, water and access to health care."

Save the Children’s assessment data will help form a wider analysis by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

"The way things are going, famine is a distinct possibility for Somalia. It is an absolute travesty that this is even conceivable when just six years ago this same region was hit by a famine that killed more than 250,000 people," Mr. Noor added.

While drought has left 6.2 million people – more than half of the population of Somalia – in need of immediate lifesaving assistance, an additional 8.3 million drought affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia are also need of urgent help.

In the last three months alone, Save the Children has reached more than half a million people just in Somalia, trucking water to the most vulnerable communities, activating dozens of mobile health teams who work across hundreds of drought affected communities assessing and treating malnutrition, and providing other vital hygiene, sanitation and medical support.

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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