Report: 43,000 deaths estimated in Somalia drought last year

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — About 43,000 people died in Somalia’s longest-ever drought last year, and half of them likely were children under age 5, a new report says.

It is the first official death toll announced in the drought wilting large parts of the Horn of Africa.

At least 18,000 people, and as many as 34,000, are expected to die in the first six months of this year.

“The current crisis is far from over,” said the report released Monday by the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s agency and produced by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya are facing a sixth consecutive failed rainy season as rising global food prices and war in Ukraine compound the hunger crisis.

The United Nations and partners earlier this year said they no longer expected a formal declaration of famine for Somalia, but called the situation “extremely critical” with more than 6 million people starving in that country alone.

Famine is the extreme lack of food and a significant death rate due to outright starvation or malnutrition combined with diseases such as cholera. A formal declaration of famine means data shows that more than a fifth of households experience extreme food shortages, more than 30% of children are severely malnourished, and more than two in 10,000 people die every day.

“The risk of famine still remains,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, told reporters on Monday.

Some humanitarian and climate officials have warned this year that the trends are worse than the 2011 famine in Somalia in which a quarter of a million people died.

“The death rate increased as the year drew to a close,” London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine professor Francesco Checchi told reporters. The worst affected populations are in Bay and Bakool in southwestern Somalia and the displaced people who have fled to the capital, Mogadishu.

Millions of livestock have died in the current crisis, exacerbated by climate change and insecurity, as Somalia battles thousands of fighters with al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate, al-Shabab. The United Nations migration agency says 3.8 million people are displaced, a record.

A food security assessment released last month says nearly half a million children in Somalia are likely to be severely malnourished this year.

This time, the world is looking elsewhere, many humanitarian officials say.

“Many of the traditional donors have washed their hands and focused on Ukraine,” the UN Resident Coordinator told visiting US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at a briefing in Mogadishu in January .

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