As the humanitarian crisis worsens in Somalia every day, many who will suffer the most this year weren’t even born yet when the conflict started.
Approximately 1.4 million Somali children are expected to be acutely malnourished in 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
“That includes 275,000 severely malnourished children,” said Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for UNICEF. “This is the most severe form of malnutrition, the kind that makes children nine times more likely to die from diseases such as cholera, or measles, or even malaria.”
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The 1.4 million figure represents a 50% increase from 2016.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last February that 5.5 million people were at risk of contracting waterborne diseases, more than half of whom are women and children under the age of five.
From January to the end of March 2017, WHO reported 15,655 cases of acute watery diarrhea (AWD) and cholera.
More than 615,000 people have been displaced since November 2016, as a direct result of the drought. As they search for water, many find contaminated sources increasing the risk of contracting disease. Women and children also face robbery and sexual abuse while migrating.
Somalia has four distinct seasons of weather: Jilal, the dry season, lasts from January to March; Gu, the season of long rains lasts from April to June. Hagaa, from July to September, and Deyr, from October to December, are both seasons of short rains, according to USA Today.
Rains failed last November – just before the dry season – for the third year in a row. The lack of fresh water deals a harsher blow every year.
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“Somalia has seen, now, three failed rains,” Mercado said. “The fact that the drought is happening more often and more severely means that people are less able to recover in between.”
Rainfall has picked up in some regions the past few days, with flash floods in the Bari, Nugaal, Mudug and Bay regions. Though the changing weather patterns seem like a welcome relief, the UN worries rains could spread disease among children currently living in makeshift shelters.
More than 6.2 million Somalis (out of an overall population of 12.3 million) are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance.
Because of the drought, the Horn of Africa is facing its third famine in the last 25 years. The most recent occurred in 2011 and took 260,000 lives. While the 2011 crisis was concentrated in South Central Somalia the current drought is more widespread, thus putting more people at risk, according to the UN.
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UNICEF has treated 56,000 children for acute malnutrition so far in 2017.
“That represents 88% more than the number of children treated for severe malnutrition in 2016,” Mercado said.
The UN has received US$461.9M in funding for its 2017 Somalia relief plan out of the US$864M that was requested.
“The combination of drought, disease and displacement are deadly for children,” said Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Somalia Representative. “We need to do far more, and faster, to save lives.”