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Somalia drought caused 43,000 deaths in 2022, report estimates


About 43,000 people in Somalia may have died last year — potentially half of them under 5 — because of the devastating and prolonged drought battering the nation, according to a UNICEF- and WHO-commissioned report released Monday.

Somalia has endured five consecutive failed rainy seasons, and may soon see its sixth. In the country of 17 million, more than 6.5 million face acute food insecurity and 223,000 face “catastrophic” levels of hunger, according to the World Food Program.

“We are racing against time to prevent deaths and save lives that are avoidable,” said WHO representative for Somalia Mamunur Rahman Malik in a statement. “The cost of our inaction will mean that children, women and other vulnerable people will pay with their lives while we hopelessly, helplessly, witness the tragedy unfold.”

The drought comes on top of a series of other crises, including political instability, severe weather events and insecurity. Far from the front lines, the war in Ukraine also caused food prices in Somalia, already high from the drought and pandemic, to surge.

The staggering estimated 43,000 excess deaths over the year is higher than the toll caused by the 2017-18 drought crisis, which saw an estimated 31,400 die, the researchers noted.

Between late 2010 and early 2012, famine killed around 250,000 in Somalia, half of them under 5, according to the United Nations. Many of those deaths occurred because the international community did not act quickly enough, U.N. officials said.

The current crisis has not been declared a famine by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, but the IPC and humanitarian officials have raised alarm bells.

“Famine is at the door, and today we are receiving a final warning,” Martin Griffiths, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said of Somalia in September. Those remarks came after the IPC projected famine to reach three areas of Somalia in late 2022.

I covered Somalia’s last famine a decade ago. It’s about to happen again.

The Horn of Africa’s drought crisis is intensifying. Between Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, more than 20 million children face the threat of severe hunger, thirst and disease during the drought, reported UNICEF in December. That is double the amount they reported suffering in July.

The report — commissioned by UNICEF and the WHO and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine — aimed to look both forward and back. The team retrospectively analyzed the drought’s effects on last year’s mortality rates, but also developed a forecast model to predict, and help avoid, future drought-related deaths.

The model’s estimates are grim: Around 135 people are projected to die every day from January to June this year — meaning 18,100 to 34,200 dead total. For children under 5 years old, death rates were doubled.

Somalia’s Health Minister Ali Hadji Adam Abubakar, who helped present the report’s findings Monday, said he continues to be concerned about the “level and scale” of the public health crisis. He said he was “optimistic” that with ongoing and “scaled-up” health and nutrition interventions and humanitarian response, Somalia can “push back the risk of famine forever.”

UNICEF representative Wafaa Saeed Abdelatef said that actions include immunizations for children, treating and preventing malnutrition, and improving access to clean water and health care.

The report also put out a call to action for increased health and nutrition services, especially in areas where their research showed the highest mortality rates. “Science, evidence and data-based findings will be critical” in strengthening the response to the drought, U.N. resident coordinator for Somalia Adam Abdelmoula wrote in a tweet after presenting the report.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.