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Somali famine deaths ‘off charts’

133,000 tallied after food aid cut off in 2011

– A decision by extremist Islamic militants to ban delivery of food aid and a “normalization of crisis” that numbed international donors to unfolding disaster made south-central Somalia the most dangerous place in the world to be a child in 2011.

The first in-depth study of famine deaths in Somalia in 2011 was released Thursday, and it estimates that 133,000 children younger than age 5 died, with child death rates approaching 20 percent in some communities.

That’s 133,000 under-5 child deaths out of an estimated 6.5 million people in south-central Somalia. That compares with 65,000 under-5 deaths that occurred in all industrial countries in the world combined during the same period, a population of 990 million, said Chris Hillbruner, a senior food security adviser at FEWS NET, a U.S.-sponsored famine warning agency.

“The scale of the child mortality is really off the charts,” Hillbruner said by telephone.

FEWS NET was one of two food security agencies that sponsored the study. The other was the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit-Somalia. Both had warned the world as early as fall 2010 that failed rains in Somalia meant a hunger crisis was approaching.

“The world was too slow to respond to stark warnings of drought, exacerbated by conflict in Somalia, and people paid with their lives. These deaths could and should have been prevented,” said Senait Gebregziabher, the Somalia director for the aid group Oxfam.

The Associated Press first reported the death toll on Monday, based on officials who had been briefed on the report.

In March 2011, an estimated 13,000 people died from famine, the study found. In May and June 30,000 people died each month – at least half of them children. The U.N.’s formal declaration of famine didn’t happen until July.

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