Some 1.4 million children in drought-hit Somalia are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said on Tuesday the number has shot up by 50 percent since the beginning of 2017.
This includes more than 275,000 children potentially facing a life-threatening acute form of malnutrition. These children will be nine times more likely to die of cholera or measles, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.
"The combination is deadly for children and can spread like fire in congested displacement camps," Mercado said at a Geneva news briefing upon returning from the central city of Baidoa.
Severe acute malnutrition is extreme, with victims often appearing skeletal and frail and in urgent need of treatment to survive.
Last month, the World Health Organization warned that the drought was fuelling an outbreak of cholera and acute diarrhoea in Somalia that has already killed hundreds of people. The warning comes as Somalia faces the threat of its third famine in 25 years of civil war and anarchy.
So far, UNICEF has treated 56,000 Somali children for acute malnutrition, an increase of 88 percent over last year, she said. The known death rate among them was one percent, she added.
The agency has no figure for the overall number of children who have died so far from hunger and disease in Somalia, but Mercado noted that in the 2011 famine, an estimated 258,000 people died over an 18-month period, including 133,000 young children.
UN spokesman Jens Laerke said since last November, some 615,000 Somalis have fled their homes due to intense drought and failed crops, joining one million previously internally displaced.
The UN has received almost 60 percent of its humanitarian funding appeal of $720 million for this year, he said. "We are still in a race against time."