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World ‘sleepwalking’ to Somalia famine catastrophe

NAIROBI (AFP) – The international community is “sleepwalking” towards a catastrophic famine in Somalia, and children are dying because hospitals are at breaking point, the charity Save the Children warned yesterday.

About 7.1 million Somalis – nearly half the population – are battling hunger, with more than 200,000 on the brink of starvation, according to United Nations (UN) figures issued earlier this month.

Somalia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa including Ethiopia and Kenya are experiencing the worst drought in more than 40 years following four failed rainy seasons that have decimated crops and livestock.

But aid agencies say there is a dire lack of international funding for Somalia, with calls for donations so far raising less than 30 per cent of the estimated USD1.46 billion needed to tackle the crisis.

“The world is sleepwalking towards another catastrophic famine of the sort we promised would never happen again,” Save the Children’s country director Mohamud Mohamed Hassan said in a statement.

“Famine is bearing down on Somalia and clinics for malnourished children are close to breaking point. Children are dying now and we’re in a race to stop that from happening.”

A mother sits with her one-year-old son as he is fed via a nasogastric feeding tube to treat his severe acute malnutrition in Baidoa, Somalia. PHOTO: AP

Some 386,000 children face severe malnutrition, the United Kingdom (UK)-based charity said.

It said that last month, one of its facilities in the southern city of Baidoa, one of the hardest hit regions, admitted a record 324 children, nearly three times higher than in the same period last year.

So far this year, 22 children have died at the centre, compared to a total of 23 for all of 2021, Save said.

The drought has also forced more than 800,000 people to flee their homes in search of help since January 2021, according to UN figures.

Some aid groups are warning that the crisis could be worse than the 2011 famine in Somalia that killed 260,000 people – half of them children under the age of six.

East Africa also endured a harrowing drought in 2017 but early humanitarian action averted a famine in Somalia.

One of the poorest countries on the planet, Somalia is plagued by the effects of climate change and has been badly affected by the war in Ukraine that has hit global grain supplies and sent prices of basic foods and fuel soaring.

Save the Children called on the Group of Seven club of the world’s richest nations meeting in Germany from this weekend to make tackling hunger and malnutrition in Somalia and across East Africa a priority.

The appeal for international aid was echoed by Norwegian Refugee Council head Jan Egeland after a visit to Somalia.

“Donors, including the neighbouring Gulf countries, need to dig deep and fast before the predictions of mass starvation become fatal figures of shame,” Egeland said in a statement yesterday.