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More than 500,000 Somali children under the age of five are expected to suffer severe acute malnutrition and risk death from famine this year, a number not seen in any country this century, the UN children’s agency said Tuesday.
“We have more than half a million children facing preventable death. It’s an imminent nightmare,” James Elder, spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Agency, UNICEF, said at a press conference in Geneva.
The United Nations has warned that parts of Somalia will be hit by famine in the coming months as the Horn of Africa faces its fifth consecutive failed rainy season. The prognosis is more serious than in 2011, when more than a quarter of a million Somalis died of famine, about half of them children.
The forecast of 513,000 children likely to suffer from severe malnutrition was a 30 percent increase from a June estimate.
Elder said feeding centers across Somalia were already operating at maximum capacity and babies were being treated on the floor.
“You have seriously ill children who can die within hours without treatment,” he said.
UNICEF last week said more than 700 children had died in feeding centers across the country.
The chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said too many people will already have died in Somalia by the time the famine is declared.
“Alarm bells are ringing loudly,” said Peter Maurer during a separate briefing, calling for faster action by the international community.