The rain has come in Somalia, but the crisis is far from over

Adeyemi Adeyemi

Global Courant

When little Samia was taken to the UNICEF-supported medical center in Somalia’s southeastern port town of Bossaso, her skin stretched taut over her emaciated ribcage. The child was so weak with fever and diarrhea that her eyes remained half closed and she could hardly move her legs and arms.

Desperate for help, her mother had spent two days on the road, traveling 350 km (220 mi) to get her child proper medical care. “Her crying was uncontrollable,” says the mother, Saido Mohamed, 31. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go for help.” After being examined at the clinic, Samia was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Doctors attached an IV to her left arm to replenish lost fluids and monitored her closely for two weeks.

Samia eventually recovered, but hundreds of thousands of children across Somalia are suffering just like her.

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The Horn of Africa recently experienced its worst drought in decades. With five failed rainy seasons in a row seriously affecting agricultural production, the United Nations estimates that at least 43.3 million people in the region are in need of livelihoods, including 8.25 million in Somalia.

Fortunately, the current rainy season (April – June 2023) is going better than expected and a famine seems to have been narrowly avoided due to continued humanitarian aid and falling food prices. But the crisis is far from over. As many as 1.8 million Somali children under the age of five could still experience acute malnutrition through 2023, with an estimated 477,700 requiring treatment for severe malnutrition.

Somalia’s story is not just about prolonged drought. Climate change has left the country mired in a spiral of drought and flooding, with recent downpours flooding the lowlands and displacing more than 200,000 people.

Although the international community was initially slow to respond to the threat of famine, Somalia eventually came to the rescue. Aid agencies stepped up their efforts and famine was averted. But while the threat of famine and severe malnutrition still looms on the horizon, with so much suffering in the global headlines, the world’s attention is already far away from Somalia and the region.

The war in Ukraine and three years of COVID-19 have understandably made people numb to bad news and painful statistics. But now is not the time for the international community to shut down. The fact remains that Somalia and other countries in this region are just one failed rainy season away from another human catastrophe. The impact of recurring climate shocks, widespread food insecurity and diminished livelihood potential is exacerbated by ongoing conflict and community displacement. If we want to save more children like Samia, we must join hands and continue to support life-saving aid in the Horn of Africa.

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On 24 May, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs held a high-level pledging meeting in New York in support of the humanitarian response in the Horn of Africa. While it hoped to raise $7 billion, only $2.4 billion has been announced for the region so far.

More needs to be done to secure more resources to address desperate humanitarian needs, emphasize the capacity and commitment of humanitarian partners to deliver life-saving assistance in the three countries, address the underlying factors impacting the region discuss options and practical, long-term solutions, including how to promote and finance climate adaptation.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is urging more UN member states to help the Horn of Africa region. We urgently need financial resources to continue the treatment of thousands of children in Somalia who suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

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UNICEF is particularly concerned about 18 of Somalia’s 74 districts in the regions of Bakool, Bay, Gedo, Hiran, Galgadug and Mudug. These southern regions urgently need medicinal food and milk, as well as medicines, which go to government or NGO health centers. In addition, we need vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat diseases such as cholera, pneumonia, malaria and measles, which, if left untreated, threaten the lives of thousands of children.

UNICEF works with the government and UN sister organizations such as the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization to prevent malnutrition, provide safe drinking water and provide essential health services.

In addition to urgent humanitarian funding, Somalia needs more predictable long-term funding to help families adapt to the vagaries of climate change. As one of the least global contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Somalia advocates for the international community’s moral obligation to provide climate finance to countries unfairly bearing the brunt of climate change.

At the center where Samia was treated, UNICEF supported the training of staff, including a doctor. The 14 employees of the Bossaso Stabilization Center treat children from the internally displaced and host communities who have severe acute malnutrition as well as medical complications. When children’s medical complications have stabilized at the center, they are transferred to nutritional treatment. In addition to treating children, the center offers mothers or carers a daily home-cooked meal during their stay, which lasts an average of 7 to 10 days. UNICEF supports the center with funding from the U.S. Office of Humanitarian Aid. But to continue this life-saving work in similar centers around the country, we urgently need more donor support. In April this year, UNICEF Somalia was facing a funding shortfall of USD 218 million. This funding gap urgently needs to be bridged if we are to save more lives like Samia’s.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

The rain has come in Somalia, but the crisis is far from over

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