Lifestyle & Belief

Somalia famine killed nearly 260,000 people: report


A Somalian refugee at the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya where thousands have fled from the region's worst drought and famine. The United Nations declared crisis talks today on the escalating humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa


Oli Scarff

NAIROBI, Kenya — Almost 260,000 people died during the famine that hit Somalia from 2010 to 2012, a report from the United Nations published on Thursday said.

The report, created by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), says half of the dead were children under the age of five. It also noted that the number of deaths in the most recent famine was higher than the estimated 220,000 who died during the country's 1992 famine.

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"[It] confirms that we should have done more before famine was declared on 20 July 2011," UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Philippe Lazzarini said. "The suffering played out like a drama without witnesses."

The famine was caused by severe drought and worsened by rival groups fighting for power in the country. Somalia was hit the hardest by the 2011 drought, which affected more than 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.

The report said "an estimated 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under five died in southern and central Somalia" during the famine. Lazzarini said some 2.7 million people still need life-saving assistance and support to rebuild their livelihoods.

At the peak of the crisis, between May and August 2011, famine and severe food insecurity killed around 30,000 people a month. The UN has since been working with its humanitarian partners to change the way they operate in order to prevent Somalia from going through another famine.

The famine is thought to be one of the worst in the last 25 years.

FEWS NET issued 16 successive warnings of impending crisis in the months before famine was officially declared in July 2011. The first warning came as early as August 2010.

However, the international community largely ignored the warnings until many lives were being lost.

The report says nearly 5 percent of the population in southern and central Somalia died as a result of the famine and around 10 percent of children. In the worst affected areas, nearly one in five children died.

Those worst hit areas included the capital Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of people came seeking food handouts and medical care. Much of the territory was under the control of Al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda aligned militant group that blocked access to aid agencies, exacted taxes of food, livestock and cash from already vulnerable people and prevented the starving from fleeing.

Somalia's latest famine — worse in terms of the sheer number of dead than the previous one in 1992 — was partly the result of failed rains as well as more than two decades of state collapse and warfare.