(IRIN) – Amid reports of rising child deaths due to malnourishment, Somalia’s opposition Al-Shabab group has granted several aid organizations access to some of the south-central areas under its control, including Lower Shabelle, one of two regions the UN recently declared to be famine-stricken.
Since 24 July, officials of an international NGO, Kuwait Direct Aid, as well as those from the International Red Cross and the International Red Crescent, have distributed food in Lower Shabelle.
The UN declared a famine in Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions on 20 July, saying that across the country, 3.7 million people – half the population – were in crisis, an estimated 2.8 million of whom are in the south.
Malnutrition rates are at 30 percent across the south, rising to 50 percent in parts of Bakool and Lower Shabelle. The highest death rates exceed six deaths in 10,000 per day, according to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) data.
In most southern regions, UNICEF says, one in five children is severely malnourished, with one in three severely malnourished in the worst-affected regions, such as Bay.
The number of acutely malnourished children has risen from 476,000 in January (103,000 severely malnourished and 373,000 moderately malnourished) to 780,000 (340,000 severely malnourished and 440,000 moderately malnourished), according to UNICEF, with 82 percent of all acutely malnourished being in the south, representing 640,000 (310,000 SAM and 330,000 GAM).
Mohamed Bashir Ibrahim, the managing director of Kuwait Direct Aid, told IRIN the NGO had opened two feeding centres in Lower Shabelle, catering for 24,000 children younger than 15. The agency now has feeding centres in three regions in the south, he added.
“With the collaboration of several other organizations, we went to Lower Shabelle in May 2011 to assess the situation in the area; we focused on 15 villages of 4,800 families,” Ibrahim said. “We found that 70 percent of the children under five were acutely malnourished. Later, we contacted the area’s administration and expressed the need to open the feeding centres.
“We were referred to the regional administration of Al-Shabab, who later allowed us to open two feeding centres in Lower Shabelle. Initially, we expected to feed at least 500 children daily in each of the feeding centres located in Kurtunwarey and Bulo-Mareen but the number increased to about 1,800 children of every age, including pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. On average, at least 800 people now come to these feeding centres daily.”
On 22 July, Sheikh Ali Dhere, the Al-Shabab spokesman, told a press conference in Mogadishu that the situation in south-central Somalia was not as bad as was being reported. He said some aid agencies had agreed to operate in the areas under the group’s control.
“The organizations we have banned from working in the areas we control are not included [among] the aid organizations we [have] allowed to work because they are not doing humanitarian [work]; on the contrary, they are doing political affairs,” Dhere said.
On 24 July, officials of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent distributed food to 24,000 people in Bardhere, Gedo region, in south-central Somalia.
The Civil Society Council said in a statement: “In an assessment we have been carrying out in the past two months, we have found that at least 10 to 15 people, mostly children, die daily in the south-central drought-affected areas. About one-third of the drought-affected people have already reached Mogadishu, another third has crossed the borders into Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen, while the majority of the remaining third are dying or are remaining in their homes too weak to move to other areas.”
The group appealed to aid agencies to prioritize help for the latter group.
According to Ibrahim of Kuwait Direct Aid, the situation in Bakool and Lower Shabelle, both under the control of Al-Shabab, was getting worse.
“We are now planning to open new feeding centers in Sablale, Dacaraha and Qoryolay and the villages near the river to feed about 12,000 vulnerable people in these areas,” Ibrahim said. “We feed about 150 malnourished children daily in Dhobley centre which we opened last week.”
In Mogadishu, a local journalist, Mohamed Abdi Hussein, told IRIN that an NGO, Muslim Aid, last week distributed relief to 5,000 families, comprising cooking oil, rice, sugar and flour. Most of the families live in Al-Shabab-controlled parts of the city, mostly in Km50 internally displaced persons camps.