High child malnutrition and mortality due to food shortages

Deteriorating food security has resulted in high malnutrition levels and child mortality rates in both southern and northern Somalia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Five rapid nutrition assessments carried out by various humanitarian agencies in the southern Juba riverine zone since September 2002 had revealed serious malnutrition, much of which manifested as oedema and high mortality rates, FAO's Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU) said in its nutrition update for June and July.

It said a nutrition survey conducted in May this year among children aged between six and 59 months in the Juba riverine livelihood area had shown global acute malnutrition of 19.5 percent and severe acute malnutrition of 3.7 percent. About 79.8 percent of the malnourished children were members of Bantu households, according to the survey.

Diarrhoeal diseases and malnutrion were identified as the leading causes of death among children aged below five years, with diarrhoea killing 30 percent of the children and malnutrition blamed for 22 percent of the child-mortality rates in the Juba River valley.

"Vulnerability within the southern Juba riverine livelihood group is increased by lack of livestock, subsistence farming and a fragile social support network system with limited access to remittances," the FSAU report said. "This problem has been exacerbated by civil unrest in the district," it added.

FAO said preliminary results of a nutrition survey carried out among children aged between six and 59 months between 29 May and 8 June, 2004 in the northeastern Sool plateau, an area comprising the regions of Sool, Sanaag and Bari indicated a global acute malnutrition rate of 13.7 percent compared to 12.5 percent in May 2003 and a severe acute malnutrition of 3.1 compared to 1.8 percent in 2003.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last month that widespread and severe food shortages had continued to affect people in the northern pastoral and southern agricultural areas of Somalia as a result of prolonged drought.

Many parts of the agricultural areas of southern Somalia had reported total to near-total crop failure due to lack of adequate moisture to sustain the crops, OCHA said in its June update on the humanitarian situation in the country. FSAU predicted a cereal shortfall of about 70,000 mt.

According to OCHA, meagre rainfall in the northern and central regions had led to haphazard migrations by some pastoralists, while others had either been unable to move with their animals without becoming destitute.

It said field reports covering pastoral areas in the north continued to indicate a deteriorating food- and livelihood-security situation, particularly in the Hawd of Toghdeer, the Sool plateau, northern and southern Nugal, southern Bari, Mudug and Galgadud, it added.

The drought had affected about 200,000 people in the north, of whom more than 93,000 were in humanitarian crisis, following a total collapse of their livelihoods. It had been hoped that the long rains this year would provide relief to the pastoralists, who had undergone seven seasons of inadequate rainfall, but the season ended early with poor precipitation in May and June, OCHA said.

To respond to the crisis, aid agencies were appealing for US $119.1 million to finance humanitarian operations in Somalia this year, saying funding requirements had risen owing to the unforeseen drought in the north and deteriorating food security in parts of the central regions.

The agencies had, in their Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal earlier this year, asked for US $110.6 million, of which donors have so far contributed just $27,878,685 (about 24 percent of the total requirements).