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UNICEF seeks emergency support for Somalia’s undernourished children

© UNICEF video
As violence surges across Somalia, and cereal production lags, child undernutrition is above the emergency threshold and increasing.

By James Elder

HARGEISA, Somalia 15 February 2008 – They were noises Khadra Abdullahi knew all too well: first, the blast from a bomb; then the screams and the clanging of pots as she threw her family’s possessions into a bag and fled.

“That was the fourth time my children and I have had to run to save our lives,” she says. “Each time we lose more.”

Just a few months ago, Ms. Abdullahi, 24, thought she had lost her three-year-old son, Abdrashid. Already weak from bouts of diarrhoea, Abdrashid suffered as the family survived on scraps of food for months during their journey away from the fighting.

Abdrashid was admitted to a UNICEF-assisted hospital in the north of Somalia where he received emergency support. He is now gaining weight and, slowly, regaining his health, though his doctor fears for him if the country’s 17-year-conflict once again forces his family to move.

“These mothers and their children have been through so many unspeakable things,” says Dr. Hodan Ahmed. “I worry about them now more than ever.”

Emergency funding shortfall

As violence surges across Somalia – and cereal production turns out to be lower than originally forecast – UNICEF fears that 2008 could be the worst-ever year for Somalia’s children. New data show that undernutrition is above the emergency threshold and increasing.

© UNICEF Somalia/2008
In Somalia, Dr. Hodan Ahmed treats Abdrashid, 3, who came to a UNICEF-assisted hospital weak and undernourished.

Despite generous humanitarian support up to the end of 2007, UNICEF’s appeal for $48 million for its 2008 programmes has yet to receive any contributions. UNICEF has been able to keep programmes afloat, though at least half the 110 nutritional feeding programmes will have to close by the end of March unless new funds arrive immediately.

UNICEF is urgently seeking $5.8 million to treat children at risk in Somalia. “Funding shortfalls will have a devastating impact on our ability to save lives,” says UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev Olesen.

Successful interventions

  • The funding crisis comes despite impressive successes in 2007, where UNICEF Somalia:
  • Vaccinated an estimated 1.6 million children under five against polio
  • Reached 80,000 acutely undernourished children with nutritional support
  • Provided more than 230,000 flood victims with increased access to safe drinking water
  • Reopened 181 schools eight weeks after the floods in 2007.

“We had some very successful interventions and made a real impact last year,” says UNICEF Somalia staff member Assa Ahmed. “But the situation remains unbearably harsh, and we desperately hope Somalia’s children won’t be forgotten by the international community.”

‘They desperately need help’

The prospect of being starved of essential support is a grim one for Somalia’s 4 million children. Without an effective central government since 1991, two generations have had their childhood shattered by war, famine and disease. International aid remains their lifeline.

As she goes from bed to bed examining malnourished and sick children – and conjuring new treatments when the preferred medicines aren’t available – Dr. Ahmed says she prays that aid will come.

“We have more malnourished children today,” she says. “We try to help them all but, of course, we don’t have all the things that they need. These women and their babies need help. They desperately need help.”




13 February 2007:
UNICEF’s James Elder reports on UNICEF’s efforts to protect Somali children from the impact of war, famine and disease.
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13 February 2007:
UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev Olesen describes why Somalia is a “forgotten crisis”.
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