Taking On Malnutrition In Somalia's Deep South

Somalia's food insecurity has eased, according to a new report by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. But, as a visit by WFP to Kismayo demonstrates, acute malnutrition remains alarmingly high, particularly among children.

From his vantage point in his mother’s arms, little Anas Mohammed stares out at the crowd in the waiting room of Kismayo General Hospital. The child is malnourished and his mother has taken him here to get special food for his condition. The 9-month old has already been screened and registered for nutritional support on a previous visit. Clutching her registration card, Sahra is one of scores of women in brightly-coloured veils, waiting to receive a monthly supply of fortified Plumpy’Sup in ready-to-use sachets for their children.

“We’re very poor,” says Sahra Osman Odawa (32). “That’s why my husband has gone outside of Kismayo to get work. I do some cooking and wash people’s clothes but it’s not easy.”

Her husband has taken six of their nine children to a village where he is getting casual work as an agricultural labourer. She is looking after the three youngest and is expecting again.

The nutrition programme, run by the UN World Food Programme at five centres around the town, also treats pregnant women and nursing mothers who are malnourished. Since it began earlier this year, some 5,000 women and children under the age of five have been registered. Two thirds of those receiving treatment are children.

“Most of those we see are from the displaced camps around the town,” says an employee of the local non-governmental organization that is WFP’s partner at this particular centre. “Some have been displaced for a long time but others are new arrivals or returnees from the refugee camps in Kenya. If they’re lucky, people get work as labourers, builders or loaders at the seaport." 

Vitality is returning
Here, as in other parts of Somalia, life is slowly returning to normal though, after more than two decades of civil war, only older generations can remember a time when their country was at peace. This town is part of the country’s southern region that, in the latter half of 2011, was ravaged by famine. The streets – dusty and rubbish-strewn - are lined with decaying buildings. They are dotted with settlements where people live in shacks made from branches and covered with pieces of cloth. But with peace, vitality is returning to the place and new shops are opening up all the time.

After four years during which conflict and insecurity made Kismayo inaccessible to much of the humanitarian community, WFP was finally able to return to Kismayo at the end of 2012. A recent survey showed that nearly half the inhabitants are struggling to meet their daily needs and nearly a quarter of children under 5 are malnourished. In addition to the nutrition centres, WFP is running three hot meals centres in the town, each able to provide for 5,000 people a day.