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News note

Drought increases risk of malnutrition in Northern Somalia

NAIROBI, 6 January 2004 - In response to severe drought in parts of the Sool and Sanaag regions of northern Somalia, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies begin a second phase of emergency interventions this week.

A succession of failed rains over the past four years has resulted in large-scale food insecurity among pastoral populations in the central regions of northern Somalia. In early October, an inter-agency assessment mission, led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), found the population hard hit by loss of livestock and purchasing power due to severely depleted reservoirs and pasture/grazing land. Though no disease outbreaks were reported and malnutrition was not yet widespread, agencies responded to immediate needs and initiated a variety of preventative interventions targeting a population of at least 90,000.

Most recently, two missions have taken place, the last of which ended on 2 January, during which ten UNICEF and WHO-supported teams visited 72 villages in Dhahar, Eilf Afwein, Hudun and Taleh districts in Sool and Sanaag. The teams provided vaccination services, clinical and antenatal care, together with nutritional screening and dry supplementary rations, intended to complement WFP food distributions. Work with NGO Horn Relief also took place including the ongoing rehabilitation of 33 shallow wells and the provision of water tanks and jerry cans.

These measures are helping to alleviate immediate needs, but sustained interventions are crucial. "The situation is fragile.” says UNICEF Somalia Emergency Officer, Robert McCarthy, “Our planning is based on the assumption that children will be increasingly vulnerable to malnutrition and disease in the coming weeks. In particular, nomadic communities who have lost significant numbers of their livestock will require continued food and non-food assistance.''

Later this week, UNICEF and WFP are set to begin the second phase of food, medical and nutritional interventions. The humanitarian response will continue to be coordinated with local and international NGOs and UN agencies. Monitoring activities ensure a consistently up-to-date understanding of the developing situation. 

Creating some concern among humanitarian agencies, however, is the growing tension between the local administrations in Northwest Somalia ('Somaliland') and Northeast Somalia ('Puntland'), both of whom claim the drought-affected areas as their territory. Ongoing interventions could be jeopardized or even halted if the situation escalates into violent conflict.

According to UNICEF Somalia Senior Programme Officer, Leila Pakkala, “Efforts to reach affected communities, often in remote areas, have been possible because of the cooperation and assistance of the concerned authorities in Somaliland and Puntland. We appeal to them to maintain a stable environment and ensure the continuity and effectiveness of response activities.''

With no rains expected before April, further losses to livestock and other assets are expected.  Prompt interventions are therefore critical in preventing further deterioration of the situation. 

In late December, UN agencies and NGOs launched the 2004 Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Somalia.  Donor response to this appeal will be critical in addressing this crisis as well as both regular and emergency interventions during the coming year.

For further information contact:

Robert McCarthy, Emergency Officer,
UNICEF Somalia. Email: rmccarthy@unicef.org.
Tel: +254-20-623954/ Mob: +254-733-775583

Robert Kihara, Assistant Communication Officer,
UNICEF Somalia. Email: rkihara@unicef.org.
Tel: +254-20-623958/ Mob: +254-721-244800. 




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