GENEVA — The World Health Organization says hundreds of thousands of people in drought-stricken Somalia may die unless the international community acts urgently to prevent the country from falling into famine.
The U.N. health agency says every single person in Somalia is facing hunger on a scale not seen since the famine in 2011, which killed more than a quarter million people, half of them children.
Speaking from the capital, Mogadishu, the WHO representative in Somalia, Mamunur Rahman Malik, said every night millions of people are going to sleep hungry. He said half of the country’s children, or 1.8 million, face acute severe malnutrition, warning that half of these children may die if they do not receive urgent medical treatment.
“I have seen children dying almost every hour in some of the health centers that I visited,” he said. “Many of them have traveled miles after miles in search of food and water and their weak bodies just could not make it that last mile.”
The WHO reports one out of every 10 children in the country is visiting health centers with diseases that are largely preventable.
In addition, Malik said one out of every seven Somali children is missing out on life-saving vaccines against killer diseases such as measles, diarrheal diseases, cholera, and acute respiratory infections. This, because they and their families are forced to leave their homes in search of food.
“We have seen deaths and diseases thrive when hunger and food crises are prolonged,” he said. “I have visited a number of health centers which I have seen with my own eyes how health workers are struggling to deal with the increased influx of children suffering.… In one instance, as many as 100 children with severe diseases needed to be cared for by only one or two health workers in very difficult working conditions.”
Malik said the WHO is working hard to prevent this dire situation from getting worse. He noted the agency is providing health care in hard-to-reach areas and delivering essential medication and other services for nearly three million people.
But he said this is not enough given the magnitude of the crisis. He warned many more people will die from disease than from hunger and malnutrition combined unless the world takes action to stave off this impending disaster.