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The Threat of Malnutrition for Somali Children Living in IDP camps

11-month-old Mohamed Aden Haji Omar is being screened for malnutrition at a health centre in the Hamar Jabjab district, south Mogadishu. His family fled from conflict and drought in Merka, which lies 120 kilometres away. Photo: UNICEF Somalia/2016/Hassan

Mohamed Aden Haji Omar does not stop crying as he is carefully weighed at a health centre in Hamar Jabjab district, in south Mogadishu, Somalia. He is severely malnourished and has medical complications. Health workers are deciding whether his condition is serious enough to admit him to the specialized hospital ward, known as the stabilization centre, where he will be closely observed and receive medical and nutritional treatment.


Athanas Makundi for UNICEF Somali

Mohamed’s family have been on the move, fleeing from conflict and drought in Merka, 120 kilometres away. Now they live in a makeshift shelter in a camp for the internally displaced in Somalia’s capital. Conditions are basic and children often fall ill.

Barni Aden Ibrahim, the boy’s mother, says a community health worker who visited the camp to screen children and educate mothers about malnutrition referred her to this outpatient centre. Here, children are given a supply of nutritious peanut paste and receive health checks.

We have seen malnutrition cases increase in recent months,” says Meymum Abdullahi Gure, who works as a Nutrition Programme Officer with Save the Children who is implementing a nutrition programme supported by UNICEF. “We receive around 15 to 20 cases every day. These include five to seven cases of severe acute malnutrition with complications, which are so serious that we cannot treat them here. We send them to the Stabilization Centre to be admitted,” she explains.

So far this year we have discharged 147 children from this outpatient programme, and we have 200 children active on the programme, but the number increases every day,” she adds.


Somali mothers queue to receive their weekly supply of nutritious peanut paste, a ready to use therapeutic food that helps malnourished children to recover. Photo: UNICEF Somalia/2016/Makundi

This is because families are moving from the Baidoa, Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions into camps for the internally displaced in Mogadishu due to conflict and lack of food. There are already 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia, many of them living in inadequate basic shelters.

When they are in the camps, the lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitation leads to diarrhoea and other illnesses, which means that the children cannot retain nutrients and suffer from malnutrition as a result,” she says. “Poor breastfeeding practices and inappropriate food for babies are also reasons for increased malnutrition.

UNICEF and its partners are also trying to prevent malnutrition through the Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme in all the outpatient and stabilization centres. Children are not only treated but their mothers learn the importance of breastfeeding, proper nutrition, home hygiene and sanitation from trained community workers.

We tell the mothers that giving this therapeutic food we provide to their malnourished children is not enough; observing basic hygiene rules goes a long way to avoid contracting diseases that could cause a relapse into malnutrition,” says Fatima Mohamed, a community health worker who promotes nutrition and hygiene practices in the IDP camps.

Supported by funding from the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, the network of outpatient and stabilization centres has helped saved the lives of 50 000 Somali children who have recovered from severe acute malnutrition in 2016.  

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