Malnutrition increases as humanitarian emergency worsens in the Shabelles

About 10,000 children are severely malnourished and at risk of death in the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions of Somalia as food prices experienced a sharp increase and the ongoing conflict hindered access to those affected, early warning agencies said.

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The rapidly worsening humanitarian situation was due to the cumulative effects of conflict, insecurity and civilian displacement affecting over 600,000 people, the Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia (FAO/FSAU) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) said in a joint statement issued on 31 October.

The latest nutrition surveys conducted by FSAU in the Shabelles confirmed global acute malnutrition rates of 17 percent and severe acute malnutrition rates of 4.8 percent - above the UN World Health Organization emergency threshold of 15 percent.

"Approximately 38,000 children under the age of five years in the rural population are estimated to be acutely malnourished, with 10,000 estimated to be severely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive the appropriate care," the statement warned, adding that poor water and sanitation conditions, limited health services, increased food sharing and reduced food access were to blame.

Food prices have risen above the reach of most of the displaced after the lowest cereal production in 13 years, trade disruptions, inflation and the rapid devaluation of the Somali shilling.

"In the three main market towns of Jowhar [Middle], Afgoi, and Merka [Lower] in the Shabelle regions, current October prices compared to the five-year average are between 235-255 percent [higher] for imported rice, 165-210 percent for local maize, and 200-210 percent for vegetable oil," said the statement.

Renewed fighting in Mogadishu further disrupted economic activities - reducing livelihood options and increasing humanitarian needs.

Christian Balslev-Olesen, the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, has called for all parties in the conflict to minimise the suffering of the civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

The appeal, in an open letter, was in response to the latest upsurge in violence in the capital, which, according to the UN Refugee Agency, left 90,000 people displaced.

"All parties including the Ethiopian forces must respect international humanitarian law," he said, "especially the distinction between civilians and combatants at times of armed conflict and the non-targeting of predominantly civilian structures."

Calling for a stop to further displacement and threats, he urged the parties to guarantee the safety of aid workers and their assets.

ah/sr