The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened food scarcity in Somalia to the point that many families are only eating once a day, a UN agency said on Wednesday.

“By August, nearly 850,000 children under 5 are expected to be acutely malnourished,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) said on Twitter, citing a report by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

“Many families could eat only once a day because of the scarcity of foodstuffs resulting from the economic hardship caused by the pandemic… This is likely to lead to a deterioration in their health with an increase in cases of malnutrition,” the report warned.

Chronic insecurity linked to the rise of the al-Shabaab terror group in the mid-2000s and recurrent natural disasters have resulted in Somalia being consistently ranked as one of the most fragile states in the world, it added.

Last month, the Somali government and the UN launched a drive to raise over $1 billion to assist Somali people in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan aims to assist 4 million people out of the 5.9 million in need of assistance, including internally displaced persons, host communities, refugees, and returnees.

Somalia has seen a deadly second wave of coronavirus infections in 2021, with the country’s overall count now over 7,500, including 249 deaths.

The country faces a huge challenge in terms of testing capacity, with cases “highly, highly underestimated,” according to Cindy Issac, deputy head of UN OCHA in Somalia.

The government announced new restrictions on Tuesday, banning public gatherings for one month and closing educational institutes and football stadiums for at least two weeks.