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Somalia famine worst in past 25 years

Study finds 258,000 people died in 2010-12 famine - half were children under five.

Famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia claimed the lives of an estimated 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under five, according to new research. The study is the first scientific estimate of the death toll from the famine.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at deaths attributable to severe food insecurity and famine, as well as when and where most deaths occurred.

The study suggests:

  • An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under five died in Southern and Central Somalia.
  • Lower Shabelle, Mogadishu, and Bay were hardest hit, with the proportion of children under five who died in these areas estimated to be about 18 percent, 17 percent, and 13 percent, respectively.
  • Mortality peaked at about 30,000 excess deaths per month between May and August 2011.

Lead author Dr Francesco Checchi, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “This study used a wealth of data on health, nutrition and food security in Somalia to try to estimate a quantity – deaths attributable to famine and food insecurity – that is inherently very difficult to measure, all the more so in a setting where births and deaths are not registered systematically, people are on the move, and the event itself is difficult to define. Nevertheless, we feel confident that the study offers a reasonable estimate of the likely death toll.”

The study covered all of southern and central Somalia, the areas most affected by the 2010-11 drought, subsequent spikes in staple food prices, and constraints on humanitarian access. Mortality among new refugees arriving to camps at Dadaab, Kenya and Dollo Ado, Ethiopia was also assessed.

The findings suggest that what occurred in Somalia was one of the worst famines in the last 25 years.

The figures are in addition to the 290,000 “baseline” deaths estimated to have occurred in the same area during the same period. That baseline, which includes conflict-related deaths, represents a mortality rate that is twice as high as the sub-Saharan average.

Compared to the 1992 Somalia famine, in which an estimated 220,000 people died over 12 months, the death toll for the recent event was higher. But the earlier famine is considered more severe because a larger percentage of the population died.

The study was jointly funded and commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU) and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

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