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Preventing future famines in Somalia

A new study estimates that around a quarter of a million people died during the famine in Somalia from 2010–2012, half of them young children.

The report, published by the United Nations (UN) and US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, concludes that the recent droughts claimed the lives of nearly 260,000 Somalis. Children under the age of five were particularly vulnerable and the situation was made worse by conflict in the region.

Despite the difficulties, humanitarian organisations believe more could have been done to save lives. The deputy head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told the BBC that the response to the crisis had been too slow and concluded that in the future “the humanitarian community should be ready to take early action”. The deputy said that around half of those who died in Somalia became casualties even before famine was officially declared.

The report estimates that in central and southern regions, 1 in ten children died. In the Lower Shabelle and the capital, mortality rates were even higher, with 17%–18% of children under five perishing. With this new understanding about the enormity of the famine, the worst to occur in Somalia for a quarter of a century, aid agencies are keen to ensure lessons are learnt.

However, agencies recognise that the conditions in Somalia remain challenging. The country has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition and infant mortality in the world. And though security is improving, aid workers are still vulnerable to attack.

Next week, the Somali president will attend a UK-hosted conference which will see officials from over 50 countries and organisations come together to discuss the future of Somalia. The gathering aims to bolster the legitimacy of the new Somali government and discuss measures which could help to rebuild the country after more than two decades of conflict. Somali officials are upbeat about the conference, which will provide them with the opportunity to present their plans for their country.

Aid agencies will also be attending next week. Speaking to the Guardian, the head of one non-governmental organisation which works in the Horn of Africa said “although the drought has ended, we need to build capacity to prepare for future emergencies...to invest in farming and livestock”. This agency also hoped that as well as leading to additional short-term projects in Somalia, the conference would encourage more long-term programmes, because when it comes to change in Somalia, patience and commitment are necessary requirements.

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