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Deaths among Somali children still exceed famine rate

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 3 Feb 2012 02:58 PM
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NAIROBI (AlertNet) – The death rate among displaced children in the Somali capital Mogadishu remains above the famine threshold, despite the United Nations’ announcement on Friday that famine has ended in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.

An exceptional harvest after good rains and food deliveries by aid agencies have improved conditions in the three worst-hit areas from famine to emergency levels but food stocks could run out again in May, the United Nations said on Friday. 

More than 2.3 million people, almost a third of the population, are still in need of aid, according to the U.N.

 "Among the internally-displaced population in Mogadishu, the death rates among children are still above the famine threshold and the acute malnutrition rates are above 20 percent, which is above the emergency threshold,” U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said at a briefing in Geneva on Friday.

“It is still very much an emergency, very much a humanitarian crisis.”

Famine is defined as a crude mortality rate of more than 2 people per 10,000 per day and acute malnutrition rates of above 30 percent in children under five years old across an entire region, according to UNICEF.

The death rate among children under five in Mogadishu IDP camps is 5.46 per 10,000 people per day, Mercado told AlertNet.

Despite the high death rate, the 180,000 displaced people living in camps in Mogadishu are no longer classified as living in famine conditions because the acute malnutrition rate among children has dropped below 30 percent.

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The famine, which was declared in July, killed tens of thousands of people in south and central Somalia. Much of these areas are controlled by Islamist militants.

Over half of those who died were children under five.

Fighting is still hampering aid deliveries to the worst-hit areas. Government forces have been fighting Islamist rebels for the past five years, while Kenyan and Ethiopian forces both moved into the country last year to help fight the al Qaeda-linked militants, al Shabaab. 

The fighting, combined with attacks on aid workers and a history of aid being manipulated for political gain, means Somalia is one of the toughest countries for relief agencies to operate in.

An estimated 325,000 Somali children are still acutely malnourished and need specialised nutrition treatment, the U.N.’s Food Security and Nutritional Analysis Unit said on Friday.

“Two regions are of particular concern. In Lower Juba and Bakool, high numbers of acutely malnourished children continue to be reported and access to treatment services remains severely restricted,” it said in a statement.

Displacement camps in Mogadishu and Afgoye, the world’s largest settlement for displaced people, 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside the capital, account for two of the three areas that have just transitioned out of famine conditions.

On Tuesday, Transitional Federal Government forces began forcibly moving internally displaced persons (IDPs) from government buildings in Mogadishu, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a Feb. 1 update.

This follows an ultimatum issued earlier in the month for all IDPs occupying government buildings and land in Mogadishu to vacate them within 12 days.

The U.N. said tensions are high in the capital’s Waaberi district where government forces plan to carry out similar operations in a former polytechnic and school buildings.

It is not clear where the IDPs will go.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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