In 2011 and 2012 a famine caused by conflict and drought killed nearly 5% of Somalia's population and 10% of its children. A recent US assessment revealed that there are currently 203,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia.
At a hospital in Mogadishu's Yaqshid district, children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, worsened by stomach and chest infections, are receiving treatment that is saving their lives. Three years have passed by since the famine killed more than a quarter of a million people in Somalia, yet for many of the country's poorest and most vulnerable people the hunger has not gone away.
Seven-month-old Zakaria was admitted to the specialized clinic with severe acute malnutrition and a respiratory tract infection. After six days of being fed fortified milk and antibiotics, his tiny body still appeared emaciated and listless but his mother, Baarlin Hassan Nuur, 30, said, "He was much improved. When I brought my son here he was very sick and vulnerable, but he is recovering now and looking better." Others in the ward included a child who had developed tuberculosis while another one who had contracted a stomach disease when he was fed cow's milk after refusing to breastfeed.
With scarce resources, nutrition expert Yusuf Sheikh Abdi struggles to run the clinic for local non-governmental organization SAACID. Abdi said, "Feeding must go together with antibiotics to treat diseases. You cannot reach the desired treatment without antibiotics." Pointing out towards the empty shelves and cabinets in the centre's pharmacy, he added, "We will have to stop admissions in the next few days."
The vast majority of the worst affected are people who were uprooted by the famine and, three years on, continue to live in squalid displacement camps that jostle for space among Mogadishu's building sites, cleared plots and new hotels, shops and office blocks. With limited access to clean water, hygienic toilets, basic medical care and food, children fall sick very quickly. But despite these dire circumstances, the situation could be and in the recent past has been much worse.
Jean-Michel Delmotte, the head of the UN children's agency UNICEF in Somalia, said, "There are always ups and downs depending on the rainfall, and there are always around 200,000 children at risk of malnutrition. The current period is one of stabilization... an opportunity to build resilience rather than having to respond to emergencies. We have to do better with less, or do differently."