U.N. warns of alarming malnutrition rates in Somali capital

MOGADISHU Sun Jul 27, 2014 5:35am EDT

A woman holds her malnourished child in Sirlaabe IDP camp in Mogadishu June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

A woman holds her malnourished child in Sirlaabe IDP camp in Mogadishu June 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - The United Nations has reported alarming rates of malnutrition in the Somali capital where aid agencies cannot meet the needs of 350,000 people due to insufficient funds, drought and conflict.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Somali government had compared the situation to the run-up to a 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people.

The United Nations has sought to improve its early warning mechanisms after its failure to spot indications of crisis in 2010 was blamed for the scale of the famine that followed in a nation torn apart by years of conflict.

"Alarming rates of malnutrition have been observed among displaced communities in Mogadishu," OCHA said in a report released at the weekend, citing a study by a unit of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation.

It said aid agencies were unable to meet the needs of 350,000 people who had fled to Mogadishu, saying the aid organizations faced a shortage of funds and violence in the capital that could restrict deliveries.

Al Shabaab rebels, seeking to topple the Western-backed government and impose their own strict interpretation of Islam, have staged a series of attacks in Mogadishu during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

"The humanitarian community is mobilizing resources to address the serious situation, but the significant shortfall in funding for humanitarian activities has undermined the capacity to respond," OCHA said of the challenges in Mogadishu.

Because of drought and continued conflict, it said food shortages were expected to worsen in areas mainly in the south and southeast of Somalia.

Earlier this year, African Union forces launched a new drive to push al Shabaab militants out of other towns and cities. Many people fled their homes in the fighting. Officials have said aid convoys sometimes struggled to reach newly retaken towns.

A U.N. emergency fund had allocated more than $21 million to support humanitarian work in Somalia, including funding a campaign to combat an outbreak of measles, OCHA said.

Overall, OCHA said it had raised less than a third of the $933 million required for its relief work in 2014, which ranges from food provision to health work and basic education.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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