Somalia famine 'killed 260,000 people'

Displaced children queue for food rations in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in January 2012 Tens of thousands of people in Somalia fled the famine in search of food

Nearly 260,000 people died during the famine that hit Somalia from 2010 to 2012, a study shows.

Half of them were children under the age of five, says the report by the UN and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net).

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said humanitarian aid needed to be provided more quickly.

The crisis was caused by a severe drought, worsened by conflict between rival groups fighting for power.

The number of deaths was higher than the estimated 220,000 people who died during the 1992 famine.

Western aid group ban

Rudi Van Aaken, the deputy head of the FAO operation for Somalia, told the BBC that the response had been too slow.

"I think the main lesson learned is that the humanitarian community should be ready to take early action - respond early on."

"Responding only when the famine is declared is very very ineffective. Actually about half of the casualties were there before the famine was already declared."

Major African Hunger Crises

  • Somalia, 2010-2012: Nearly 260,000 die of hunger caused by drought and conflict
  • Niger, 2010: Food shortages affect more than 7 million people after crops fail; 2005 - thousands die following drought and locust invasion
  • Sudan, 2008: Localised famine in some areas of southern Sudan due to war and drought
  • Ethiopia, 2000: Three consecutive years of drought leave millions at risk, with famine declared in Gode, the Somali region
  • Democratic Republic of Congo, 1998-2004: Severe food crisis caused by conflict, millions affected by hunger
  • Somalia, 1991-1992: Drought and war contribute to famine across the country; about 250,000 famine-related deaths reported in 1992
  • Ethiopia, 1984-1985: Up to one million people die in famine caused by conflict, drought and economic mismanagement
  • Nigeria, 1967-1970: One million die in civil war and famine in the breakaway Biafran republic
  • Uganda, 1970s: Localised famine in Karamoja leaves thousands dead

The FAO said earlier that the "true enormity of this human tragedy" had emerged for the first time from the study, done jointly with Fews Net.

"By nature, estimating mortality in emergencies is an imprecise science, but given the quantity and quality of data that were available, we are confident in the strength of the study," said Fews Net official Chris Hillbruner.

"It suggests that what occurred in Somalia was one of the worst famines in the last 25 years," he added.

The UN first declared a famine in July 2011 in Somalia's Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions. They were controlled by the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, which is aligned to al-Qaeda.

Al-Shabab denied there was a famine and banned several Western aid agencies from operating on territory under its control.

The famine later spread to other areas, including Middle Shabelle, Afgoye, and at camps for displaced people in the government-controlled capital, Mogadishu.

An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under five died in southern and central Somalia, the report says.

In Lower Shabelle, 18% of children under five died and in Mogadishu 17%, the report said.

Continuing child malnutrition

Somalia was worst hit by the extreme drought in 2011 that affected more than 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in search of food.

The UN declared the famine over in February 2012.

"While conditions in Somalia have improved in recent months, the country still has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition and infant mortality in the world," Ben Foot, from the charity Save the Children, said in a statement.

The UK government has said that at a conference it is hosting on Somalia's future next week it will set out policies on how to tackle the root cause of famine and contain the effects of drought.

The UK's International Development Secretary Justine Greening said Somalia's famine had been "one of the worst disasters of recent times,"

During more than 20 years of civil war, Somalia has seen clan-based warlords, rival politicians and Islamist militants battle for control - a situation that has allowed lawlessness to flourish.

Last September, a UN-backed government came to power, after eight years of transitional rule, bringing some stability to some areas.

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