Somalia Drought is Killing Thousands but the World Remains Indifferent

By Emily Thompson

A new report this month by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) says an estimated 43,000 excess deaths occurred in Somalia in 2022 due to drought, half of which were children under five years old. Commissioned by the UNICEF Regional Office and the World Health Organization (WHO) Somalia country office and carried out by LSHTM, the study presents retrospective estimates of mortality across Somalia from January to December 2022. The highest death rates were estimated to have occurred in south-central Somalia, especially the areas around Bay, Bakool and Banadir regions, the current epicentre of the drought. The research is highly concerning and should spur countries to action – but the world remains indifferent.

The United Nations has reported that due to five consecutive unsuccessful rainy seasons, half of Somalia’s population of 17 million people require immediate assistance. Despite some experts anticipating a famine declaration last year, certain regions of the country were able to avoid such a classification. An estimated 43,000 Somalis died during the country’s longest ever drought last year, half of them likely to have been children under five years old, according to a new report.

LSHTM notes that the current estimates of the ongoing drought crisis in the Horn of Africa are comparable to those observed during the 2017-2018 drought, and there is a potential for the figures to increase to alarming levels, even surpassing the previous record. This crisis is considered one of the worst hunger emergencies in the last 70 years, and immediate action is necessary to improve the situation and prevent excess deaths.

The crisis is worse than people realize. Regions in the Horn of Africa, including northern Kenya, southeast Ethiopia, and Somalia, are facing severe drought conditions. Somalia, in particular, has been experiencing a series of droughts since 2008, with the latest crisis beginning in 2021. The crisis is also exacerbated by food insecurity, rising global prices, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previous estimates indicate that the 2017-2018 drought crisis led to 45,000 excess deaths, and similar figures have been published for the 2010-2012 famine. It is crucial to act swiftly to restore the pre-crisis death rates.

Save The Children UK tweeted, “43,000 people may have died as a result of the #drought in #Somalia last year. Half of them are thought to be under 5 years old. With almost half a million children still suffering severe malnutrition, the world must act now to prevent further tragedy.”

Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, tweeted,

@PowerUSAID Somalia is facing a 6th failed rainy season — the longest stretch in recorded history. A new report from @WHO shows the staggering human toll of this drought [America] continues to surge assistance to prevent Famine but other donors must scale up assistance now.

But while some individuals and organizations tweet about the crisis, not enough is being done on the ground. This has not always been the case.

Over the past three decades, Western nations have provided significant assistance to Somalia in various forms. The country has been beset by conflict, instability, and poverty for years, which has led to humanitarian crises and internal displacement of millions of people. In response, Western nations have provided both emergency and long-term assistance to the country.

One of the primary ways Western nations have helped Somalia is by providing humanitarian aid in times of crisis. For instance, when Somalia was hit by severe drought and famine in 2011, the international community responded with emergency aid. Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany provided food, water, and other essentials to help those affected by the crisis.

In addition to emergency aid, Western nations have also provided long-term assistance to Somalia. This assistance has focused on areas such as governance, security, and development. Western countries have helped to train and equip the Somali National Army and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) in their fight against militant groups. They have also supported efforts to rebuild Somalia’s institutions and infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and roads.

Moreover, Western nations have played a vital role in promoting peace and stability in Somalia. They have supported diplomatic efforts to end the conflict and bring about political reconciliation. They have also supported the creation of transitional and federal governments in Somalia, as well as the organization of free and fair elections. Despite these efforts, Somalia still faces significant challenges, including political instability, poverty, and terrorism.

Most Americans will recall the US Black Hawk disaster that occurred on October 3, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the Battle of Mogadishu, also known as the Day of the Rangers. The US was involved in a humanitarian mission in Somalia, attempting to capture two of the top lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was causing chaos and suffering for the Somali people. The movie Black Hawk Down recalls the events of that day.

While the assistance provided by Western nations over the last three decades has been essential in helping Somalia to survive and rebuild, a lot has changed and that interest has waned. Following the disaster, the US pulled its troops from Somalia and reduced its involvement in the country’s conflict. Since then, there has been less involvement by Western nations, partially due to security reasons and partially due to disinterest.

But thousands of people, mostly children, are dying preventable deaths. This joint report led by LSHTM and funded by UNICEF and WHO must spur the world into action.

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