GENEVA - The number of young children in Somalia facing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has increased to over half a million - a level higher than a 2011 famine in which tens of thousands of children died, UN agencies said Tuesday.
"We've got more than half a million children facing preventable death. It's a pending nightmare," Mr James Elder, spokesperson for the UN children's agency Unicef said at a Geneva news briefing, saying this level had not been seen in any country this century.
The UN has warned that parts of Somalia will be hit by famine in the coming months, as the Horn of Africa region faces a fifth consecutive failed rainy season.
Somalia's 2011 famine claimed more than a quarter of a million lives, around half of whom were children.
There are over 513,000 children under five years old expected to suffer from SAM, Mr Elder said, meaning they are many times more likely to die from diseases like measles, malaria and cholera, which are spreading in the country.
That represents a 33 per cent increase in children at risk since June.
Unicef said last week that over 700 children had died in nutrition centres across Somalia.
Mr Elder said many of these centres were at maximum capacity, and infants were receiving treatment on the floor.
"You've got critically ill children who, without treatment, may die in a matter of hours," he said. REUTERS