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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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Drought in Somalia killed 43,000 last year

ffirst of all Rains in Somalia fail in 2021. Then it fails again and again. For five consecutive rainy seasons, Somalis looked anxiously at the sky as crops withered, livestock died and many died of starvation or disease.A new report by United Nations Agencies and the Somali government estimate there were 43,000 “excess deaths” in the country last year, relative to typical levels. Half of the dead were children under the age of five.

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The hunger is the deadliest in Somalia since the 2010-11 famine, which claimed the lives of 260,000 people. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, whose modeling underpins the report, predict that 135 people will die from drought-related causes every day in the coming months. Comprehensive Food Security Phase Classification (industrial computer), A United Nations The Measuring Hunger affiliate estimates that 6.5 million Somalis will face “crisis”, “emergency” or “catastrophe” levels of food insecurity between April and June (see map).

It is the worst drought in the region in 40 years. Its barren shadow stretches beyond Somalia into Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, where millions more starve. The Horn of Africa’s dry spell has been linked to La Niña, a temporary cooling of the Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns around the world and is only easing after three stubborn years. Its effects may have been magnified by climate change, although that is hardly to be blamed on the Somali people. Since independence in 1960, they’ve emitted roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide as Americans have emitted in the past two and a half days.

Two exacerbating factors turned trouble into tragedy. It started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which accounted for 90 percent of Somalia’s wheat imports before the conflict. Soaring food and fuel prices are stretching the budgets of families and aid agencies alike, said Shashwat Saraf, regional emergency director for East Africa at the nongovernmental organization International Rescue Committee. In 2017, the last time Somalia was battling drought, a swift humanitarian response saved lives. This time, the disruption of the war in Ukraine (plus covid-19) means help is slower to arrive.

The second challenge is insecurity. Al-Shabab is an al-Qaeda affiliate that controls much of the countryside. Since August, Somali troops and clan militias have driven them out of some central parts of the country. But the jihadists have taken root in their southern heartland, where hunger is crippling. Rescuers fear being kidnapped or killed. In the past, al-Shabaab has demanded protection money to allow aid to pass through. Violence along transport routes can lead to higher food prices as far as 900 kilometers away, a recent study found.

If food cannot move, people must move. Last year alone, 1.2 million people were displaced by drought. Overall, approximately one in five Somalis, or 3.7 million people, are internally displaced. Many of them have flocked to settlements on the fringes of towns, where rescuers can reach them in relative safety. Mamunur Rahman Malik, the World Health Organization representative in Somalia, said people were dying from preventable diseases such as diarrhea or respiratory disease. Without protein from animals, their immune systems would be severely weakened.

Now, Somalis are scanning the skies again for signs of “ancient” rain coming next month. Slightly improved forecasts and a recent drop in food prices offer hope of avoiding a full-blown famine. But even if the drought eventually ends, it will take years for debt-ridden households to rebuild their livestock and assets. Guyo Malicha Roba of the Jameel Observatory, an international research collaboration in Nairobi, believes governments and aid agencies should start planning their next project by developing strategic water points and infrastructure. Many times, when an emergency occurs, their attention is lost. “We had a better season right away and we went back to sleep,” he said.

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