Failing rains, severe malnourishment, enduring conflict and poor sanitation have left Somalia facing a humanitarian crisis, with 50,000 children "at death's door" and 2.9 million Somalis at risk of hunger, a coalition of aid agencies has warned.
Twenty-three charities - including World Vision, Oxfam and Save the Children - have united to highlight the perilous state of the country and make an urgent appeal for the US$822 million shortfall in humanitarian funding. Somalia has received only 12 per cent of the money it needs this year.
According to a report they have compiled, pastoralists have been slaughtering livestock because of water and food shortages, while the UN-backed offensive by the African Union Mission in Somalia against the al-Shabaab militia in the south of the country has swelled the ranks of the 1.1 million internally displaced people.
Women in the country have the second-highest risk of maternal death in the world, one in seven children is acutely malnourished, and less than one in four people has access to adequate sanitation facilities. Moreover, polio has returned, with 193 cases recorded in the past year.
"Fifty thousand children are severely malnourished and at death's door," said the agencies. "As we learned in 2011, not heeding the warning signs of crisis in already fragile communities can lead to tragedy."
Andrew Lanyon, of the Somalia Resilience Programme, called for action to stave off disaster, saying a quick reaction would prove far cheaper than waiting for the situation to deteriorate.
"What we have is an early warning that has ingredients of a perfect storm," he said.
"While we should be working to reach and maintain minimum standards globally, giving adequate attention to all crises at all times, Somalia's situation is such that immediate response to avert disaster will result in spending as little as a third of the cost of responding when [the crisis] peaks."
His calls were echoed by Ed Pomfret, Oxfam's regional campaigns and policy manager for the Horn, east and central Africa.
"These statistics would be arresting in almost any other situation in the world," Pomfret said.
"The problem with Somalia is that it has been a crisis for over 20 years … people more or less roll their eyes and think: 'Pirates, terrorists, hunger and death, what can I do about that?' If we don't act now, we risk the current crisis becoming a catastrophe."