Conditions worsen for famine-wracked Somalis in Mogadishu, but improve in Ethiopia

16 September 2011

Health and nutrition rates have deteriorated for famine-wracked Somalis displaced within their own country but improved for those who have fled to Ethiopia, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

In Mogadishu, the capital, the incidence of diarrhoea and measles among internally displaced persons (IDPs) remains a concern and the estimated mortality rates among children under the age of five continue to be alarmingly high at 15.43 per 10,000 a day in August, compared to 14.09 in July, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva. Malnutrition rates have also worsened.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died and more than 3.2 million others are on the brink of starvation in a country that has been torn apart by factional and Islamic militant conflicts for the past two decades during which it has had no functioning central government.

Access to IDPs has improved somewhat since Al-Shabaab Islamic militants withdrew from Mogadishu last month under pressure from the 6,200-strong UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and UNHCR has made fact-finding missions to some of the more than 180 makeshift camps in the capital to distribute emergency aid items.

“We aim to undertake up to 10 fact-finding missions a week to IDP settlements,” Mr. Edwards said. “We still have no access to many parts of the capital. Outside the protected compound of the Mogadishu International Airport, our staff are still forced to move with secured convoys.”

In the Tarbuush and Al Adala settlements, IDPs now have improved shelter conditions and can use new kitchen sets to prepare the food they have received. Blankets and sleeping mats were also immediately put to use.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners have made progress in delivering health and nutrition services to tens of thousands of Somali refugees in the Dollo Ado camps in Ethiopia. The measles vaccination campaign completed two weeks ago has led to a sharp decrease in new cases and fatalities, and mobile health teams are reaching many families who previously had no access to medical services.

In Kobe camp, there has been a steady decline in mortality rates, which are now estimated to be 2.1 per 10,000 people per day, down from a rate of 4 to 5 a few weeks ago. When Ethiopia’s newest camp, Hilaweyn, opened six weeks ago, the overall malnutrition rate among newly arrived refugee children under 18 was 66 per cent. The rate has now dropped to 47 per cent.

Across all camps in Dollo Ado, the overall rate is around 35 per cent as the nutritional feeding programmes for children have reached the most vulnerable. “We are continuing these feeding programmes as the rate of malnutrition is still high, particularly among children under the age of two,” Mr. Edwards said.

On average 300 Somalis continue to cross the border daily into Dollo Ado from the areas of Bay, Gedo and Bakool in Somalia.

“New arrivals tell us that conditions in Somalia are still precarious, with the majority of livestock having now perished and food hard to come by. Some of them are also directly fleeing continuing conflict and violence,” Mr. Edwards said.

Drawing on lessons learned from the 1992 famine when infant mortality spiked during the colder weather and rains in Somalia in October, UNHCR is working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to distribute 60,000 UNHCR blankets in Mogadishu and neighbouring regions. The agency is also preparing transitional shelters and procuring extra-large plastic sheeting.


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