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Threat of malnutrition still high in Somalia despite onset of rains -ICRC

By Rajiv Golla

NAIROBI, May 19 (Reuters) - Rains in Somalia have brought
relief from drought but malnutrition remains a threat, the
International Red Cross said on Friday, with the number of
children admitted to its feeding centres nationwide nearly
doubling over the last year.

Somalia is coming out of a severe drought that meant more
than half its 12 million citizens were expected to need aid by
July. Families have been forced to drink slimy, infected water
after the rains failed and wells and rivers dried up.

But rains began in parts of the country in the second week
of April and have since spread to most areas.

The rains will allow farmers to plant crops as well as grass
for the livestock that sustain Somalia's nomadic families,
although the long drought has already wiped out livestock herds
and forced many farmers to seek aid in cities.

"Even if the rains are good, this is not going to change the
situation immediately. There will be significant needs in terms
of strengthening the livelihoods and resilience of people over a
period of time," Dominik Stillhart, ICRC head of global
operations, told a news conference in Nairobi.

ICRC said a feeding centre it runs in Baidoa has 230
patients under the age of five, up from 100 a year ago, while
countrywide, the number of malnourished children at its
stabilisation centres and those run by the Somali Red Crescent
Society had shot up 80 percent, to 12,710.

"The humanitarian community must work as fast as it can to
help the 6 million people in need in Somalia, including the
360,000 acutely malnourished children ... as soon as possible,”
Jordi Raich, the head of ICRC Somalia, said in a statement.

In addition to food shortages, Somalia is experiencing a
rapid spread of cholera, with more than 20,000 cases reported
nationwide. The outbreak is expected to worsen due to the rains.

Somalia's last famine, in 2011, killed more than 260,000
people.

Food shortages are worsened by fighting in some areas
occupied by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants.

But unlike in 2011, when al Shabaab's restrictions on
movement and its refusal to allow many aid groups access pushed
up the death toll, the group is allowing people to move.

Al Shabaab has lost large swathes of territory in recent
years to pro-government regional militias and African Union
peacekeepers supporting the federal government.

Although it no longer controls major cities, it is still
strong in parts of rural southern Somalia.
(Reporting by Rajiv Golla; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing
by Catherine Evans)

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