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Mothers and children hit hard by nutrition crisis in Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2007/ FSAU
A mother and her daughter in Middle Shabelle, Somalia. The girl is suffering from acute malnutrition.

By Misbah Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Somalia, 13 September 2007 – A recent nutrition survey conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Security Analysis Unit and other UNICEF partners estimates that 83,000 children in central and southern Somalia suffer from malnutrition – 13,500 of whom are severely malnourished and at risk of dying.

“These children urgently require attention to ensure that they survive,” says UNICEF Somalia Representative Christian Balslev-Olesen. “UNICEF is very concerned that their numbers might increase with continued civil strife, limited humanitarian access to these areas, food insecurity and a depressed economy.”

UNICEF Nutrition Officer for Central-South Somalia Regine Kopplow has been working in the Shabelle Region for over a year now. Only recently, however, has she been faced with critical malnutrition in an area that has been referred to as the country’s ‘breadbasket’.

“Conditions have been bad for some time,” says Ms. Kopplow. “But they deteriorated rapidly after the floods earlier this year. Things are just getting worse.”

Recently, Ms. Kopplow spoke to a family with one-year-old twins. 

“When I saw the twins, their parents said, ‘Please take them. We have nothing to eat. We don’t know what to do. Please just take them, otherwise they will die here,’ “ says Ms. Kopplow. “We brought them to Jowhar, along with their very, very thin mother and admitted them to the hospital.”

'Unless we have peace, we are all limited'

According to Ms. Kopplow, the underlying cause for malnutrition in this region is household food insecurity coupled with poor sanitation and infant care practices.

“If you go to a camp for internally displaced persons, everyone has scabies. This is indicative of poor hygiene,” she pointed out.

UNICEF supports 60 feeding centres that treat about 15,000 malnourished children each month, but this number is simply not great enough to meet the need. Also, many of the at-risk children live far from a centre.

“Often, bringing a child to a centre means that the mother has to spend four weeks with the child, away from home and her other children,” says Ms. Kopplow. “Because there is no one else to take care of these other children, very often parents decide not to come to the feeding centres.”

Security in this region of Somalia is often a huge concern and families may not have access to the feeding centres they need. In order to reach thousands of additional children, civil insecurity must be tackled.

“Today you have access to one area, tomorrow the situation changes,” says Kopplow. “It is very hard to work in a sustainable manner in an environment like this. We need more feeding centres, we need to get more children to these centers. But this is just a painkiller. Unless we have peace, we are all limited in how much we can do.”





13 September 2007:
UNICEF Representative in Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen, gives UNICEF Radio an update on the critical malnutrition situation in the poverty-stricken country.
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