MOGADISHU, April 20 (Xinhua) -- International charity on Thursday expressed concern about the alarming increase in severe malnutrition among children in drought-hit Somalia.
Save the Children said its new study found "very critical" levels of severe malnutrition in two of six districts assessed in some of the worst-affected parts of Somalia, which could spell disaster for a country where livelihoods have already been devastated and the economy crippled by the drought.
Hassan Saadi Noor, Save the Children's Country Director in Somalia, said 7 percent of all children under five in the districts of Badhan and Adado in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia, are severely malnourished.
"We are on the brink of a massive catastrophe in Somalia with the death of three quarters of the country's livestock, a rapid increase of children suffering severe malnutrition and the depletion of water stores in dozens of communities," Noor said.
The assessment also found exceptionally high rates of stunting in Hudur district, another part of Somalia heavily impacted by drought and an area devastated by the famine in 2011.
Less than 10 percent of children in Somalia are currently registered in a nutrition program, according to the study, which warns that children could start dying "in the near future" unless immediate action is taken, including a major and rapid scaling up of nutrition outreach services.
"Despite April traditionally being the wettest month of the year for much of the country, it has barely rained so far. Our fear is that if this pattern continues and the rainy season fails again, we could start seeing children dying in significant numbers," said Noor.
"Donors have stepped up in recent months, however such is the scale of this crisis that even more funding is needed to address malnutrition directly, including improving access to food and water to prevent it in the first place."
Save the Children's mobile health teams in Somaliland also reported a dramatic increase in the proportion of children they have screened who are moderately or severely malnourished, rising from 11 percent to 26 percent between February and March.
"The last two or three months have been devastating right across Somalia. You see the dead animals everywhere here, and there simply isn't any pasture left in many parts," Noor said.
While drought has left 6.2 million people, more than half of the population of Somalia, in need of immediate lifesaving assistance, a further 8.3 million drought-affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia are also in need of urgent help.