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Children's aid spread thinly in drought-hit southern Somalia


Starving children are not fully benefitting from UN-supplied rations to drought-hit southern Somalia because parents are having to share the food with the rest of the family, said aid officials and local people.

As a result, children in the southern Somali town of Wajid, in Bakol region were not gaining weight despite being put on high-protein diet, said officials. "I cannot feed a single child and leave the other members of the family to starve. When I receive relief food for the malnourished baby, the whole of my family shares it," Amina Mohamed told a visiting AFP reporter at a crowded feeding centre in Wajid.

As she spoke, her four-year-old son, Abdi Aden, cried for food, as they stood on the long queue to receive a share of high-energy biscuits donated by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Except for the food we receive for our child from the feeding centre, we cannot afford anything else and have to survive on water," another mother said. Each malnourished child is given 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds) of porridge a month and high-protein biscuits.

"The children should have gained weight if the families in Wajid had some kind of food for other family members, but everybody is relying on the supplementary food donated for malnourished children," UNICEF's Jonathan Veitch lamented. According to UNICEF, Somalia has one of the highest infant and child mortality rate in the world, with diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria being the main killers, and neonatal tetanus and measles also taking a heavy toll.

Tuberculosis is another killer in Wajid, where most victims are women, children and the elderly, local health officials told AFP. Farmers in Wajid's surrounding villages look expectantly at the blue skies, hoping the long rains, known here as the Gu season, will soon start.

But most of them have no seeds or food to eat until the next harvest in about three months, although aid agencies are planning to distribute seeds before the rains. Livestock have either starved to death for lack of pasture and water, or their owners have sold them, leaving most nomadic families destitute. Wajid is relatively peaceful compared to other towns in war-ravaged Somalia.

It even has a small police station where 14 people are being detained on suspicion of theft and fighting.

Shallow wells in Wajid provide sufficient water for the inhabitants, but in surrounding villages, people and animals fight for dirty, stagnant water from the roadsides, which carries the risk of disease. Years of bad harvests, caused by low rainfall and the ravages of the war, have left people in southern Somalia with no food stocks, Wajid elder Shiekh Abdi Mohamed Aden said.

"God, the most powerful will help, but this time we need the help from his people as well. I have not eaten for two days," Aden said.

The UN Food Programme (WFP) will soon start a food-for-work project involving, among other activities, improvement of sanitation and sinking of water wells. "The WFP will provide 2,000 tonnes of food for work in Bakol region, while the more populous neighbouring Bay region will receive 2,500 tonnes," said WFP programme coordinator in Wajid, Edward Kallon.

Kallon said the programmes would help ease present food shortages in southern Somalia and stop displacement of people and their migration to neighbouring Ethiopia, which itself is threatened by famine.

Large quantities of food have been stock-piled in the northeastern Kenyan town of Mandera for distribution in southern Somalia and the drought-stricken Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, Kallon said.


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