258,000 Somalis died of famine
NAIROBI - Almost 260,000 Somali people, half of them children, died of dire hunger from 2010 to 2012, greatly more than was feared at the time, an official report said Thursday.
Half of those who died were children aged below five -- almost a fifth of that age group died in the hardest-hit area -- and UN officials admitted they could have done more to prepare for the famine.
"Famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia claimed the lives of about 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under five," read the report.
The joint report, by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), is the first scientific estimate of how many died as a result of the extreme conditions.
"The report confirms we should have done more before the famine was declared," said Philippe Lazzarini, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
"Warnings that began as far back as the drought in 2010 did not trigger sufficient early action," he said in a statement.
Somalia was the hardest hit by extreme drought in 2011 that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.
"An estimated 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under five died in southern and central Somalia," the report read, saying the deaths were on top of 290,000 "baseline" deaths during the period, and double the average for sub-Saharan Africa.
Famine was first declared in July 2011 in Somalia's Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, but later spread to other areas, including Middle Shabelle, Afgoye and inside camps for displaced people in war-ravaged Mogadishu.
In Lower Shabelle 18 percent of children under five died, the report said.
The UN declared the famine over in February 2012.
During the famine, it was feared that tens of thousands had died, whereas the report now shows more people died than in Somalia's 1992 famine, when an estimated 220,000 people died over a year.
Famine implies that at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the UN definition.
Somalia, ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and one of the regions that needs them most.