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Disaster in Somalia: U.N. reports 258,000 die in famine and extremist violence

A mother holds her emaciated child in Somalia.
A mother holds her emaciated child in Somalia.

This week, CNN reported a study just released by a U.N. led group that estimates a staggering number of people have continued to perish in the country of Somalia in their attempt to find food and water.

The catastrophic drama of famine-driven deaths has continued to play out on a stage in Africa, with little notice by the outside world, even though warnings were loud and urgent, starting in 2011, when the famine was officially declared a humanitarian disaster in the making.

At that time, Dr. Jill Biden, was part of a doctor’s group that toured the region on a fact-finding mission. Jill is the wife of Vice President Joe Biden. The group was shocked by what they saw.

The following is an excerpt on their observations:

We saw the answer as we listened to a grief-stricken mother of five, who had marched for 15 days across the parched Somali land to find food and security in a border camp. They arrived malnourished, sick and thirsty to a camp of 430,000 other refugees (that was built to support 90,000 people). They competed with 1,500 others who had made it to the camp that day, only to find it filled to capacity. Inside they would find adequate food and water.

Droughts have been exacerbated by climate change in a region that is experiencing the driest conditions in over six decades. Scientists predict extreme weather anomolies could cause future global starvation problems .

Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator said “the world was too slow to react,” which resulted in the loss of a quarter million people in Somalia alone between 2010 and 2012— with the most vulnerable being children younger than 5 years-old.

The report is the first scientific study on the mortality caused by the crisis. It was “jointly commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.”

In addition to the ravages of drought, harsh conditions in remote areas are largely inaccessible to foreign aid, so people driven by desperation after losing all their resources including livestock, struck out on their own to travel dozens or hundreds of miles in search of refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Many died along the way, resulting in the origin of graphic terms like “roads of death”.

The commission study estimates that a staggering 4.6 percent of the total population in Southern and Central Somalia was wiped out by starvation and disease, as the region struggled with the “driest time in the eastern Horn of Africa in 60 years, which resulted in the death of livestock, small harvests and a big drop in demand for labor, cutting into household incomes.”

Compounding the problem and hindering aid has been the ongoing violence and conflict waged by militant extremists al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab—which also contributed to the death toll.

"We now have a picture of the true enormity of this human tragedy,'' said Mark Smulders, a senior economist for the Famine Aid Organization.

Marthe Everard, World Health Organization's director for Somalia, was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying she hadn’t seen the report, but that “Somalis themselves were shocked about the number of women and children dying. It should give us lessons learned, but what do we do with it? How do we correct it?"

The U.N. report says 2.7 million people in Somalia are still desperately in need of assistance. For more information and to find out what you can do visit UNICEF by clicking here.


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