Child in Somalia 

A mother cares for her son who is being treated for cholera at a UNICEF-supported cholera treatment centre in Baidoa, Somalia. PICTURE: © UNICEF/UN059485/Knowles-Coursin

As many as 1.4 million children are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in Somalia this year - including more than 275,000 whose lives will be under threat, according to UNICEF.

The UN agency said that the number of those expected to suffer acute malnutrition has rise by 50 per cent since the start of this year thanks to a combination of "drought, disease and displacement". About 615,000 people, mostly women and children, have been displaced from their homes by drought since November last year. And while rains are now coming, they could exacerbate the situation, forcing more people off their land and creating conditions that will aid the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria.

UNICEF says that severely malnourished children are nine times more likely to die of diseases like cholera and measles, which are now spreading in country, and notes that during the 2011 famine in Somalia in which an estimated 260,000 died – more than half of them young children, the main causes of death among them were diarrhea and measles. 

Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF's Somalia representative, says the organisation and its partner agencies have treated more than 56,000 severely malnourished children already this year – a figure which represents a rise of almost 90 per cent on those aided during the same period in 2016.

"[W]e need to do far more, and faster, to save lives," he said.

UNICEF has so far only received $US78.7 million of its $US148 million appeal to address the situation in the country.

Meanwhile, Catholic humanitarian agency Caritas Australia this week sounded a warning over the situation in South Sudan, saying that without "concerted political and community action", there is a risk that the famine which has already been declared in parts of the country could spread to across the region.

"With over 20 million people at risk of starvation, this is a major humanitarian disaster that requires our urgent action. It’s vital for us to do whatever we can to assist before it’s too late and the worst of this large-scale famine becomes entrenched,” said Caritas Australia's CEO Paul O’Callaghan.

“This is an unprecedented situation and may be the gravest food security event since the 1984 famine that devastated the people of Ethiopia."

To donate to Caritas Australia's Africa Emergency Appeal visit www.caritas.org.au/learn/emergency-response  or phone 1800 024 413.