East Africa Crisis Escalates as Famine Declared in South Somalia

Wednesday 20 July 2011, 10:36PM
By UNICEF New Zealand

The UN has declared a famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia, with all other regions in the South of the country expected to have famine status within the next two months. Nearly half a million children are malnourished in South Somalia, with UNICEF NZ (UN Children’s Fund) calling the disaster ‘a children’s famine’.

According to UNICEF, a situation can be classed as a famine when Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) levels exceed 30 per cent or more than two people per 10,000 are dying per day. Currently in some areas of Bakool and Lower Shabelle acute malnutrition levels are exceeding 50% with infant deaths exceeding six per 1000. This is six times the emergency rates for infant mortality.

In South Somalia half of the 3.7million people in crisis are children, with an estimated 470,000 malnourished children in the area. One in five malnourished children are under five years of age and extremely vulnerable to death.

Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director of UNICEF NZ said, “With almost half a million children waking up hungry and suffering today in South Somalia, this truly is a children’s famine.

“The situation is grim and many children are in desperate condition. Many families have been tipped over the edge, their animals are dead and their livelihoods decimated. After years of drought and conflict their coping strategies are gone. If they are strong enough many are now moving on in search of assistance. Urgent aid now will stop massive numbers of children and their families moving to urban centres within the country and across the border regions in order to get help.” McKinlay said.

A critical package of nutrition, health, water and sanitation is urgently needed otherwise children will die from a combination of deadly diseases and malnutrition. UNICEF urgently needs US $31.9 million (NZ $ 38million) for the next three months in East Africa as a whole, to rapidly scale up its life-saving efforts in nutrition, access to safe water and health and bringing these services to those desperately in need.

McKinlay added, “We can save more lives if we act now. We need to bring the services to people in their communities so that people don’t have to move in the first place. For those already in camps we need to make sure that we provide life-saving support to people to try and keep children alive and prevent outbreaks of disease.”

UNICEF is one of the largest agencies in Somalia leading the provision of nutrition, water and sanitation, and education. In South Somalia, UNICEF and its partners have already provided basic health care services to nearly 900,000 people, and have provided water and sanitation to over a million. UNICEF is supporting approximately 800 Nutrition centres across Somalia.

UNICEF has already airlifted five metric tons of supplies, including therapeutic food and medicine, to treat severely malnourished children and more support is on the way, “In the next couple of days flights to Mogadishu will be delivering health and nutritional supplies to drought affected areas in the south,” McKinlay comments. “In addition a ship has left Kenya with 200 metric tons of therapeutic food and will arrive in Mogadishu in the next few days. And more will follow, as long as we can keep the funds coming in.”

UNICEF also plans to scale up this work by co-ordinating a large scale vaccination program, increasing the number of feeding centres, extending health care and delivering clean water to more households.

McKinlay said, “This crisis demands an urgent world response. People are starting to wonder how much worse this disaster can get, but the fact is that it can and it will. New Zealanders have been generous so far but we need to urge you now to give what you can, however small, and help us to ease the despair that people in South Somalia are enduring.”
UNICEF NZ urgently needs funds to reach malnourished children in South Somalia and other countries in need in East Africa. For only $52 you could help feed a malnourished child for almost a month. Please donate now at or call 0800 800 194.