12 January 2022 - Somalia

Southern Somalia: One in two young children left undersized by chronic malnutrition

Ayaan*, 42, with her baby Mohammed, 3, who is recovering from malnutrition

Ayaan*, 42, and her baby Mohammed*, 3, Baidoa, Somalia. Photo credit: Mohamed Shidane/Save the Children. More content available here.

Nearly half of children under five in the Baidoa district of southern Somalia are suffering from chronic malnutrition, impeding their physical and mental growth, according to new data released today by Save the Children.

The figures indicate the severe impact of the prolonged and worsening drought in Somalia, and the diminishing capacity of families to provide enough food for their infants to grow. The drought is expected to worsen in coming months.

The data, which assessed the nutritional status of a random sample of about 860 children aged between 6 months and aged 5 in Baidoa district from October and November 2021, showed an increase in rates of chronic malnutrition from 30% in 2019 to 48% in 2021.

Chronic malnutrition— also known as stunting - is caused by poor nutrition, repeated infection, and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child's life. It is linked to irreversible long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development.

Currently more than 90% of Somalia is in drought, with the southern and central parts of the country worst affected. The drought has destroyed livestock and farms, dried up waterholes, and led to mass hunger and displacement.

Ayaan* (42) is a mother of eight from a village in Baidoa district. She recently abandoned her farm and moved with her children to a displacement camp, where her baby Mohammed* (3) was diagnosed with malnutrition. She told Save the Children:

“Our farm was destroyed and all our crops have failed. We used to irrigate our farm with rainwater but the rains were not good in April and all wells dried up. We had no water to help water our crops and that is why we were not able to cultivate our land. After our crops failed, we decided to move to Baidoa.”

Dr. Binyam Gebru, Deputy Country Director of Program Development and Quality at Save the Children in Somalia, said:

“I’m a medical doctor and have seen a lot of illness, but the impact this prolonged, extended drought is having on the fragile bodies and minds of small children is frightening. We are seeing five-year-olds the size of two-year-olds, and children who spend the day sleeping because they haven’t the energy to get up and walk.

“It’s particularly shocking to see the confusion amongst pastoralists. These are some of the most resilient people on earth, used to walking up to 200km to find pasture for their animals during times of drought. Now, they are tracing time-worn paths to wells and waterholes, only to find the shrivelled corpses of animals strewn around parched riverbeds.

“We fear we’re going to see the horrific conditions which played out in 2016/17, which led to extended misery for children, unless funds are released, now.”

At least $1.5 billion USD is urgently needed to protect vulnerable children and their families across Somalia, and give them the food, healthcare, education and water they need to get through this crisis.

Save the Children is urging the government of Somalia to prioritize the humanitarian response and ensure the current political deadlocks between the federal government and member states do not obstruct humanitarian aid delivery to children and their families impacted by the crisis.

Save the Children is working to help affected communities in Somalia to cope with the immediate humanitarian effects of drought. We are providing emergency water supplies, treating children who are malnourished, supporting education systems so that children do not miss vital learning while displaced by drought, running health facilities, and providing cash and livelihood support to the most vulnerable.

No child should ever go hungry. Support our hunger appeal.

*Name changed to protect identity

Content available: Ayaan*, 42, and baby Mohammed*, 3, from Baidoa, Somalia; Locusts in Puntland, Somalia; and Somalia malnutrition infographic.

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