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Snr. Public Affairs Officer
Peter Smerdon was a foreign correspondent for 20 years, mainly with Reuters in Africa and the Middle East.
On her first visit to Somalia, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran met women and children in a camp for displaced people and witnessed the impact of a deepening drought on malnutrition rates among children and the elderly.
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran on her first visit to Somalia today met displaced women and children who are fleeing conflict and deepening drought conditions which are raising malnutrition rates among young children.
"I’ve seen today that this drought is deepening and I’m especially alarmed by its impact on the most vulnerable including children and the elderly," Sheeran said at Hiran camp for the displaced on the edge of South Galkayo in the state of Galmudug in central Somalia.
WFP has unveiled new controls and monitoring in Somalia to enable it to better target the most vulnerable and ensure that life-saving assistance reaches them. Sheeran witnessed a call hotline in use so beneficiaries can tell WFP if they don’t receive the full ration they should receive. She also saw other innovative controls WFP is applying to its operations in Somalia.
Central Somalia is the epicentre of what local officials said was the worst drought in the region in 30 years.
Speaking after watching children under five in the camp being weighed and measured to detect acute or severe acute malnutrition before they and their families receive WFP food, Sheeran said: "We're screening they're nutritional status and making sure they're getting the special food for their brains and bodies."
WFP stopped food distributions to all the 6,000 displaced people in the camp in March as part of a drive to tighten its focus to targeted supplementary feeding of malnourished children under five by providing special highly nutritious food to help them recover as well as a food ration for the families of malnourished children.
Sheeran earlier explained to officials how babies were born with their brains 60 percent developed and if they failed to receive vital nutrients in the first three years their brains would never be able to recover.
“For people who care about the future of Somalia, my message is to build the brains of the children of Somalia. If their brains aren’t strong, Somalia has no future,” she said.
She explained how WFP would only provide general food distributions when they were needed to save lives in emergencies but would help both by improving child nutrition and supporting projects such as Food for Work and Food for Assets, where people are given food in return for working on building assets such as waterpans so communities can survive drought or roads so they link up to local economies.
Sheeran flew in today from Nairobi to Garowe city in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the northeastern corner of Somalia and had similar discussions with the president and his ministers.
WFP aims to assist a total of 1.2 million people in Somalia this year and is appealing for the resources to do so.