In a famine, 260,000 died of starvation in Somalia, with at least half of victims being children aged 5 and under, a new report found. The famine, which happened in late 2010 and early 2011, killed more than twice the amount of people officials originally thought.
The famine in which 260,000 died was a combination of several factors: signs of food shortages across East Africa went largely ignored by the international community; radical militants exacerbated the problem by hindering food aid and deliveries across central Somalia; and many of the malnourished were unable to survive the journey out of the country due to sickness, hunger, or the militant extremists.
At the time, estimates out of the U.K. claimed that anywhere from 50,000-100,000 died in the famine, but now the death toll is much higher, according to the Associated Press. A new report by FEWSNET, a famine early warning system, used data from the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit to determine the true mortality rate during the famine.
Although the report will not be made public until Thursday, two other officials confirmed off the record that the estimated death toll could accurately be placed in the quarter million range. Making the estimates more difficult is that it is tough to identify when exactly a widespread famine begins- the lack of a defined response early only pushed the Eastern African region further into crisis.
"You lose children by the time people realize it's met the established definition of famine," Sikander Khan, head of UNICEF in Somalia, told AP.
In mid-2010, food resources had already begun to dry up, but significant donations from the U.S. and aid groups like Oxfam and Save the Children didn't begin to come in until much later. The U.N. declared the starvation in Somalia a famine in July of 2011.
Al-Shabab, a militant extremist group, controlled parts of Somalia, making food aid and gathering accurate statistics problematic. Even families who attempted to travel by foot the hundreds of miles to refugee camps in Kenya or Ethiopia lost many along the way to hunger.
Somalian officials have hesitated to comment on the reports, choosing to wait until the entire study is completed. Citizens of the impoverished country were appalled by the death estimate, however.
"The Somalis themselves were shocked about the number of women and children dying," Marthe Everard, World Health Organization Country Director for Somalia, said. "It should give us lessons learned, but what do we do with it? How do we correct it for next time?"