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NAIROBI – In observance of the Day of the African Child, Oxfam urges the international community to act now to save the lives of almost a quarter million children in Somalia threatened by conflict, malnutrition and disease. One generation has already suffered immensely since the country collapsed 19 years ago. Somalia cannot afford for another to be lost.
Escalating conflict is compounding an already disastrous humanitarian situation. Since the beginning of the year, 200,000 people have fled the worsening violence in the country, particularly in the capital, Mogadishu. Such forced displacement exacerbates already poor sanitary conditions, insufficient clean water, and lack of access to healthcare and food. The resulting acute malnutrition and disease are killing more Somali children.
Peter Kamalingin, humanitarian planning representative at Oxfam, said, “Because of the fighting, more and more mothers are seeking help because they don’t have enough food or clean water for their children. While the international community focuses on piracy, the future of Somalia is wasting away.”
Oxfam, in partnership with a specialist nutrition centre in Mogadishu, provides care for severely malnourished children and mothers. In only the last two months, it has seen a 30 percent rise in the number of admissions, especially in the districts bordering Afgooye Corridor, a nine-mile stretch of land where nearly 400,000 people, the largest number of displaced people in the world, live in desperate conditions.
In addition to providing emergency water and sanitation to displaced people in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, Oxfam supports Banaadir Hospital, a children’s hospital in Mogadishu. There, the number of children being admitted with waterborne and contagious diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea, has surged. Oxfam is delivering emergency public health equipment this week and has installed a new water and sanitation system.
Somalia is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with almost half the population—3.2 million people—in need of relief aid and life-saving assistance. The south/central regions of Somalia, where one in five children is acutely malnourished, are hit the hardest by the conflict, making it more difficult for humanitarian relief to reach them. The nutritional status of displaced children is of great concern, as one in four suffer from chronic malnutrition. These levels far exceed the emergency malnutrition threshold.
While malnutrition is most critical in the south/central regions, the rates of acute malnutrition in Somalia as a whole are among the highest in the world. A recent Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit study found that 60 percent of children under the age of five are suffering from anemia and a third of all children are vitamin-A deficient. These nutritional deficiencies increase the risk of disease and premature death.
While conflict is raging, Somali children are struggling to survive. The international community must act now to stem the present humanitarian catastrophe or risk another generation of children being lost, the children it so desperately needs to build a new Somalia.