by Ed Nash, Medair Field Communications Officer
Crowds of happy children greet me when I visit Muruqmal camp in Burao, Somaliland, energised and excited to see a visitor from Medair.
Older children run out to meet me, but many of their younger siblings are obviously suffering from malnutrition. Babies and toddlers lie in their mothers’ arms, their exhausted eyes glazing over.
When I speak to families in these displacement camps, most of them have been hit hard by malnutrition in some way. For the youngest children, malnutrition not only impacts their long-term physical and cognitive development but also has deadly consequences for them: one-third of all child deaths worldwide are linked to malnutrition . Almost one in five children in Burao’s camps is suffering from malnutrition .
Empty Stomachs A mother invites me into a fenced-off area around her shelter to chat. Milgo Hussein has lived in this camp for 10 years and has eight children between the ages of one and 15. “I feed the children twice a day,” she says. “They eat rice and, if we can afford it, a few vegetables.”
Food is scarce for families like Milgo’s under normal conditions, but the drought in this region made things much worse. “When the drought was very harsh in this country, I was hungry myself,” she says. “I felt weak and my stomach felt empty. I could only get a very little milk from my one goat. I used it in tea, there was not enough to give milk to the children.”
Milgo’s youngest daughter, one-year-old Fatha, became very sick. “She did not have enough to eat,” says Milgo. “She was weak and had diarrhoea.”
From Weakness to Health Thankfully, Medair runs an integrated relief programme that helps reduce child malnutrition in camps like Muruqmal as well as in rural parts of Somaliland. When Milgo brought Fatha in to be seen by our team, we immediately enrolled her in a therapeutic feeding programme and gave her sachets of nutritious food. “Medair gave me special food to give to Fatha,” says Milgo. “She was so weak she could not eat it herself, so I fed it to her, a little at a time.”
Fatha was weighed and measured regularly, and our staff checked in on her to monitor her recovery. With this treatment, Fatha gained weight and became much more active. “Fatha is now much better,” says Milgo. “The special food from Medair has been very good for her, it has made her better.”
Medair also gives food rations to mothers of malnourished children like Milgo to help them feed their whole families. “With Medair’s help I am able to get rice, pasta, flour, dates, oil, and even a little sugar each month to feed my children,” she says. “The situation is difficult for us because we are so poor – this really helps us. My other children would also be malnourished without the food we receive from Medair.”
Malnutrition continues to be a deadly threat for children in Somaliland, but evidence suggests that Medair’s approach is making a real difference here. The nutrition situation among Burao internally displaced persons has improved from “Very Critical” to “Critical,” thanks in part to increased humanitarian assistance. The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) specifically cited Medair’s contributions to the improved nutrition situation in its June 2012 report .
Thank You I watch as healthy Fatha gurgles happily in her mother’s lap, breaking into squeals of joy when her mother tickles her under the arm. It is an honour to see firsthand the impact of Medair’s work: exhausted children brought back to health and families hopeful about the future once again.
As someone who has encountered the people we are helping and seen how Medair has transformed their lives, I want to say thank you to all our donors. Thank you for believing in a better future for the impoverished people of Somaliland and thank you for helping Medair be a part of building up this country.
 Source WHO www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs178/en/index.html  FSNAU Nutrition Update May-June 2012, available for download at www.fsnau.org/in-focus/fsnau-releases-nutrition-situation-update-somalia-may-june-2012