Fatuma Ali and her grandson in one of the wards of the stabilisation centre.

© ICRC/Pedram Yazdi

There is no hiding from the severity of the situation in Somalia today. An increasing number of children are facing starvation without urgent help.

The east African nation is in the grips of a severe drought. And it could be about to get much worse.

Crops have failed and there are fears famine could take hold if the upcoming rainy season fails again.

One hospital is doing everything it can to save help children struggling to survive the slow and painful effect of severe malnutrition.

It urgently needs your support. Please, donate to our East Africa Crisis Appeal today.

A lifeline in Kismayo

Mothers have been streaming into Kismayo General Hospital stabilisation centre.

Supported by the Red Cross, the centre is one of the few places in South and Central Somalia where malnourished children can be treated.

By the end of February, 369 new patients had been admitted – a worrying 40 per cent increase on last year.

Among them is Fatuma Ali, with five-month-old Abdikaafi Jimaale.

Abdikaafi weighs just over three kilos – the normal weight of a newborn baby.

“I’m from the rural area, and the drought has led me here,” Fatuma explained.

“The baby’s illness is why I came. I’m his grandmother, not his mother. He is the first born of my daughter, she has died.”

© ICRC/Pedram Yazdi Mohamed Gedi, the General Supervisor of the centre examines the case file for 22-month-old Khalid Farah Aden.

© ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
Mohamed Gedi, the General Supervisor of the centre examines the case file for 22-month-old Khalid Farah Aden.

Children at risk

Abdikaafi is not alone. After two failed rainy seasons, over half of Somalia’s population is short of food.

Mohamed Gedi runs the centre at Kismayo. He is alarmed at the current situation.

“Since November 2016, we are feeling the strain as the number of patients increase,” said Mohamed.

“These patients are coming from the rural areas. The farmers have had their crops fail twice now.”

Children, especially those under five, are among those most at risk from food shortages.

In proportion to their weight, their bodies burn far more energy than an adult. That means they need to eat more often.

“Nothing grows in that dry ground”

Ten-month-old Abdirahman Bakar Ali came to the centre in January, severely malnourished and suffering from measles.

He has made good progress and could be released soon, but his mother Sahra Osman is worried about the continued drought.

“We work on the farm,” she explained. “But it’s so dry. The ground is so dry; can you grow anything? Nothing grows in that dry ground. A ground that dry can’t produce.”

“The parents are eating the food their children leave behind. If we don’t get anything we sleep. We are grown ups, we can persevere. But the young children cannot.”

363,000 children need your help

Children are put on a therapeutic feeding program at the centre.

They receive nutritional milk between six and eight times a day, depending on how serious their condition is.

They are also weighed, and progress charts with a timeline for weight gain are drawn up.

Some children with complications such as pneumonia, kwashiorkor, or anemia, are admitted to the intensive care unit.

These children often lack the strength to eat. They are listless, and their appetite has almost disappeared.

Sometimes their milk has to be given to them through a nasal tube.

the children receive between 6-8 servings of therapeutic milk per day

© ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
Children at the centre receive between 6-8 servings of therapeutic milk per day.

“The last six months have been really bad,” said Mohamed.

“It feels like the 2011 drought crisis [when 260,000 people died]. That is what is making people afraid. Because for the last four months the number of patients keeps increasing.”

The Kismayo Centre provides a safe haven where mothers can stay with their children while they recover.

There are washing facilities, and three good meals a day are provided for family members. The mothers also receive advice and training on breastfeeding, and on nutrition.

Across Somalia, an estimated 363,000 children are acutely malnourished.

Around 70,000 are in such a serious condition that they will need support from places like Kismayo to survive.

The Kismayo Centre, along with another Red Cross supported centre in Baidoa, is providing vital, life-saving support to these children.

We urgently need your help to reach as many children as possible.

Please, donate to our East Africa Crisis Appeal today.