Famine in Somalia ‘worst in 25 years’

Nearly 260,000 people died in parts of Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children

A woman sells charcoal along a street near Bakara market in Mogadishu. Photograph: Ismail Taxta/Reuters

A woman sells charcoal along a street near Bakara market in Mogadishu. Photograph: Ismail Taxta/Reuters

Thu, May 2, 2013, 15:32

More than a quarter of a million people are estimated to have died during the recent famine and food crisis in Somalia, and more than half were children under five, making it the worst famine in the past 25 years, according to figures published today.

A study, commissioned and funded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) food security and nutrition analysis unit for Somalia and the famine early warning systems network, estimated that 258,000 people died in southern and central parts of Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under the age of five.

The figure is significantly higher than the death toll from the country’s 1992 famine, during which an estimated 220,000 people died over 12 months, although this famine was considered more severe because a higher percentage of the population died.

The study suggests that 4.6 per cent of the total population and 10 per cent of children under five died in southern and central Somalia over the crisis period.

Lower Shabelle, Mogadishu and the Bay area were hardest hit, with the number of child deaths estimated to have reached 18 per cent, 17 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. Death rates peaked at 30,000 a month between May and August 2011.

The UN declared famine in two regions in Somalia - Bakool and Lower Shabelle - in July 2011, following repeated warnings of an impending crisis after severe drought and failed harvests.

By August, the UN said three more regions were in a state of famine - Middle Shabelle, Afgoye and parts of Mogadishu. Other parts of Somalia, particularly the south, were in the grip of a severe food crisis by this time, with high rates of acute malnutrition.

The drought, the worst in the region for 60 years, led to livestock deaths, reduced harvests, and drops in labour demand and household incomes. Poor harvests drove food prices to extreme levels, said the report. The situation was compounded by conflict and insecurity in Somalia, which impeded the delivery of food aid.

The Islamist group al-Shabaab was at war with the government, and areas the group controlled were some of those worst affected by the crisis. The level of humanitarian assistance to Somalia had decreased between 2010 and 2011.

Donors have been criticised for their slow response to the crisis.

Agencies first warned of severe drought across the region in August 2010 and, in March 2011, saying famine was likely if the April to June rains failed. They did. However, major appeals for donations launched in September and October, a drop in food prices and a successful rainy season meant that by November the situation had improved.

The UN declared an end to famine in February 2012. The study covered all of southern and central Somalia, the areas most affected by famine and food insecurity between 2010 and 2011.

It also assessed mortality rates among new Somali arrivals at Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya and at Dollo Ado in Ethiopia.

Researchers drew on more than 200 mortality surveys carried out since 2007, including 61 from the emergency period, along with data on food prices, wages, conflict, humanitarian assistance and epidemics.