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Too late to declare hunger emergency to save people: ICRC

The plight of Somalis, especially young children, is set to worsen if no rain falls in the coming days, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said, not withholding its grim assessment that too many people would have already died in the country before a hunger emergency was declared.

“The alarm bells are ringing loudly,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday, calling for faster action by the international community. Nevertheless, he reflected that too many people would have already died in Somalia by the time a hunger emergency was declared.

Mr Maurer’s concerns were echoed by Francesco Rocco, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) who warned that some two dozen countries across Africa were grappling with the worst hunger crisis in decades.

Meanwhile, the UN children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday that the number of young children in Somalia facing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has soared to over half a million – a level higher than a 2011 famine in which tens of thousands of children died.

“We’ve got more than half a million children facing preventable death. It’s a pending nightmare,” James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF said at a Geneva news briefing, saying this level had not been seen in any country this century.

Mr Elder put the number of children under five years old expected to suffer from SAM at over 513,000. This translates into a significantly higher likelihood of them succumbing to diseases like measles, malaria and cholera which are spreading in the country. That represents a 33 percent increase in children at risk since June.

As shown by UNICEF data, last week a staggering number of over 700 children died in nutrition centres across the country. Mr Elder said many of these centres were at maximum capacity and infants were receiving treatment on the floor. “You’ve got critically ill children who, without treatment, may die in a matter of hours,” he said.

Warnings have come from the UN that parts of Somalia will be hit by famine in the coming months as the Horn of Africa region slumps into a fifth consecutive failed rainy season. More than a quarter of a million lives, around half of whom are children, was the death toll of Somalia’s 2011 famine.

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