NAIROBI, KENYA: The 2011 Somali famine killed an estimated 260,000 people, half of them age 5 and under, according to a new report to be published this week that more than doubles previous death toll estimates, officials told the Associated Press.
The aid community believes that tens of thousands of people died needlessly because the international community was slow to respond to early signs of approaching hunger in East Africa in late 2010 and early 2011.
The toll was also exacerbated by extremist militants from al-Shabab who banned food aid deliveries to the areas of south-central Somalia that they controlled. Those same militants have also made the task of figuring out an accurate death toll extremely difficult.
A Western official briefed on the new report — the most authoritative to date — told AP that it says 260,000 people died, and that half the victims were 5 and under. Two other international officials briefed on the report confirmed that the toll was in the quarter-?million range. All three insisted they not be identified because they were not authorized to share the report’s contents before it is officially released.
The report is being made public Thursday by FEWSNET, a famine early warning system funded by the U.S. government’s aid arm USAID, and by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit — Somalia, which is funded by the U.S. and Britain.
A previous estimate by the U.K. government said between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in the famine. The new report used research conducted by specialists experienced in estimating death tolls in emergencies and disasters. Those researchers relied on food and mortality data compiled by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit.
Because of the imprecise nature of the data available, the toll remains only an estimate.
Marthe Everard, the World Health Organization’s country director for Somalia, said she has not yet seen the report but would not be surprised by such a high death toll.
Much of the aid response came after pictures of weak and dying children were publicized by international media outlets around the time the U.N. declared a famine in July 2011.
“By then you are too late,” Everard said.