About 200,000 children under the age of five could die from severe malnutrition in Somalia by the end of the year, unless the United Nations receives emergency funds to stave off mass hunger, UN officials have said.

Only $15m has been received against the appeal by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to donor states for $150m to provide vital health services to more than three million women and children in the Horn of Africa nation this year, the agency said on Tuesday.

"If funding is not received immediately, UNICEF will have to suspend essential life-saving health services within one month," said the agency spokesman Christophe Boulierac in Geneva.

"Somalia has 200,000 children under the age of five at risk of death (by) the end of the year 2014 from severe malnutrition if they do not receive life-saving therapeutic assistance.”

Acute malnutrition

About 50,000 Somali children under five currently suffer from acute severe malnutrition, according to UNICEF.

Somalia's government is struggling to impose any sense of order, more than two decades after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the country into chaos.

UNICEF has been providing 70 percent of health services including medicines, vaccinations, staff salaries and fuel to run hospital generators, especially in central and southern Somalia, Boulierac said.

Western nations fear the country could sink back into chaos and provide a launch pad for armed groups.

The capital Mogadishu has been hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks in the past few months, claimed by al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab rebels, who have waged a sustained guerrilla campaign even after being pushed out of the city in mid-2011.

Source: Reuters