A new report released by the Somalian government suggests that far more children died in the country last year due to the ongoing drought than previously realised.
The study estimates that there were 43,000 excess deaths in 2022 in Somalia due to the deepening drought compared with similar droughts in 2017 and 2018.
Half of the deaths are likely to have been children under five. Up to 34,000 further deaths have been forecast for the first six months of this year.
Released on Monday by Somalia’s federal health ministry together with Unicef and the World Health Organization, the report was compiled by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London, who looked at retrospective estimates of mortality across Somalia from January to December 2022.
Accurate statistics are difficult to compile from a population spread across remote areas, and with about three million people displaced from their homes. The highest death rates are thought to be in the regions of south-central Somalia, including Bay, Bakool and Banadir, that are the worst hit by drought.
Somalia’s health minister, Dr Ali Hadji Adam Abubakar, found cause for optimism that famine had so far been averted.
“We continue to be concerned about the level and scale of the public health impact of this deepening and protracted food crisis in Somalia,” he said.
“At the same time, we are optimistic that if we can sustain our ongoing and scaled-up health and nutrition actions, and humanitarian response to save lives and protect the health of our vulnerable, we can push back the risk of famine for ever.”
If this did not happen, he said, “the vulnerable and marginalised will pay the price of this crisis with their lives.”
“We therefore urge all our partners and donors to continue to support the health sector in building a resilient health system that works for everyone and not for the few,” said Abubakar.
For the first time, a prediction model was developed from the study. A forecast from January to June 2023 estimates that 135 people a day might also die due to the crisis, with total deaths projected at being between 18,100 and 34,200 during this period.
The estimates suggest the crisis in Somalia is far from over and is already more severe than the 2017-18 drought.
Wafaa Saeed, Unicef’s representative in Somalia, said he was saddened by the grim picture of the drought’s impact on families, but added: “We know there could have been many more deaths had humanitarian assistance not been scaled up to reach affected communities.
“We must continue to save lives by preventing and treating malnutrition, providing safe and clean water, improving access to lifesaving health services, immunising children against deadly diseases such as measles, and providing critical protection services.”
There have now been six consecutive failed rainy seasons in the climate crisis-induced drought, which coincides with global food price rises, intensified insecurity in some regions, and the aftermath of the pandemic.
The study is the first in a planned series and was funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.