Child malnutrition reaches alarming rates in Somalia

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- The latest UN Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) nutritional survey on Gedo region in southern Somalia has produced 'alarming' results.
A mid-December survey, released in Nairobi the same day Somali leaders signed a peace agreement, indicates exceedingly high malnutrition figures in Belet Hawa district, with 37 percent of all screened children under five found to be malnourished.
A similar survey this time last year in the same location found malnutrition rates lower by half.
The survey team in Belet Hawa saw emaciated children in most villages, many of whom were unable to stand and had difficulty breathing.
While Gedo is the epicentre of the crisis, other populations elsewhere in Somalia - including the north - can be described as being in an extremely fragile condition, the survey report said.
FSAU estimates some 750,000 persons are at risk in Somalia.
A number of overlapping factors, including a down-turn in remittance income from overseas sources, a continuing livestock export ban and the overall poor economic situation have been additional shocks to a vulnerable population that has suffered its worst main harvest in seven years.
The result is that despite the availability of food, many cash- strapped vulnerable families in Somalia simply cannot afford the basics for survival.
Up until now, remittance money has helped cushion these blows to livelihoods.
However, the closure of the money transfer company, Al-Barakat, and the uncertainty that has surrounded other major money transfer agencies means remittance money would be seriously curtailed.
Al-Barakat money transfer company was closed mid November following suspicion by US authorities that it was being used as a conduit by suspected terrorist groups.
"Over the last few months we have seen a gradual worsening of the humanitarian situation due to these factors," said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Randolph Kent.
Kent said the results "put a stark spotlight on how vulnerable families throughout Somalia are barely surviving.
We have warned the international community since May this year that the situation throughout Somalia was deteriorating.
" The UN report said persistent insecurity and limited funding continue to constrain the ability of aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance in this region.
Aid agencies, including international NGOs, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, have stepped up intervention in hard-hit areas to address food, health, water and other basic needs.
UN and NGO partners are undertaking relief emergency measures including supplementary and therapeutic feeding, food distributions, surveillance activities and support to public health systems.
However, these results clearly show that aid agencies have insufficient resources to address the current crisis.
WFP has been providing food assistance to about 300,000 Somalis now facing serious food shortages.
An appeal for 20,000 metric tonnes of food was issued in August but a slow response by the donor community has left WFP with a shortfall of about 15,000 tonnes of food.
"Our greatest fear is a rapid deterioration during the long dry season up to the April/May rains," Kent said, adding that "above and beyond these appalling humanitarian conditions, we are concerned that increased turmoil in the country due to conflict and outside intervention could tip Somalia over the edge.

26 december 2001 19:17:00

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