When tiny Samia was brought to the UNICEF-supported medical centre in the southeastern port city of Bossaso in Somalia, her skin was pulled tight over her emaciated rib cage. The infant was so weak from fever and diarrhoea that her eyes remained half closed and she could hardly move her legs and arms.
Desperate for help, her mother had spent two days on the road, traveling 350km (220 miles) to get her child proper medical attention. “Her cries were uncontrollable,” says the mother, Saido Mohamed, 31. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go for help.” After Samia was examined at the clinic, it was determined that she had severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Doctors attached a drip to her left arm to replace lost fluids and monitored her closely for two weeks.
Samia eventually recovered, but hundreds of thousands of children across Somalia are suffering just like her.
The Horn of Africa has recently experienced its worst drought in decades. With five failed rainy seasons in a row severely impacting agricultural production, the United Nations estimates that at least 43.3 million people across the region require life-sustaining assistance, including 8.25 million in Somalia.
Thankfully, the current rainy season (April – June 2023) is faring better than expected and a famine appears to have been narrowly avoided by sustained humanitarian assistance and declining food prices. But the crisis is far from over. As many as 1.8 million Somali children under the age of five could still face acute malnutrition through 2023, with an estimated 477,700 needing treatment for severe wasting.
Somalia’s story is not just one of prolonged droughts, either. Climate change has locked the country in a spiral of droughts and floods, with recent rains flooding the lowlands and displacing more than 200,000 people.
Although initially slow to respond to the threat of famine, the international community eventually came to Somalia’s aid. Aid organisations stepped up their efforts and famine was averted. However, while the threat of famine and severe malnutrition still looms on the horizon, with so much suffering in global headlines, the world’s attention has already moved away from Somalia and the region.
The war in Ukraine and three years of COVID-19 have understandably left people numb to bad news and painful statistics. But now is not the time for the international community to switch off. The fact remains that Somalia and other countries in this region are just one failed rainy season away from another human catastrophe. The impact of recurring climatic shocks, widespread food insecurity, and reduced livelihood potential is being compounded by persistent conflict and community displacements. If we are to save more children like Samia, we must come together and continue supporting the lifesaving response in the Horn of Africa.
On May 24, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs held a high-level pledging event in New York to support the humanitarian response in the Horn of Africa. While it hoped to raise $7bn, so far only $2.4bn has been announced for the region.
More needs to be done to secure scaled-up resources to address desperate humanitarian needs, highlight the capacity and commitment of humanitarian partners to implement lifesaving assistance across the three countries, discuss the underlying factors affecting the region, and explore opportunities and practical, long-term solutions, including how to promote and finance climate adaptation.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is urging more UN member states to step up to help the Horn of Africa region. We need urgent funding to continue providing treatment to thousands of children in Somalia suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Specifically, UNICEF has major concerns about 18 of Somalia’s 74 districts across the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, Hiran, Galgadug and Mudug regions. These southern regions urgently need supplies of therapeutic foods and milk, as well as medicines, which will go to health centres run by the government or NGOs. In addition, we need vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat diseases like cholera, pneumonia, malaria and measles which, if left unchecked, threaten the lives of thousands of children.
UNICEF is working with the government and sister UN agencies such as the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Health Organization to prevent malnutrition, supply safe drinking water, and deliver essential health services.
As well as urgent, humanitarian funding, Somalia needs more predictable, long-term financing to help families to adapt to the vagaries of climate change. Among the least global contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Somalia makes the case for why the international community bears the moral obligation to provide climate financing to countries unfairly carrying the weight of climate change.
At the centre where Samia was treated, UNICEF supported the training of staff including a medical doctor. The 14 staff at the Bossaso Stabilization Centre treat children from the internally displaced and host communities who have both severe acute malnutrition and medical complications. When children’s medical complications are stabilised at the centre, they are transitioned to receiving nutrition treatment. In addition to treating children, the centre provides the mothers or caretakers a daily home-cooked meal throughout the duration of their stay, which averages about 7 to 10 days. UNICEF supports the centre with funding from the US Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. But to continue carrying out this lifesaving work at similar centres across the country, we desperately need increased donor support. As of April this year, UNICEF Somalia faced a funding gap of $218m. This funding gap needs to be urgently bridged if we are to save more lives like Samia’s.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.