Victims of climate change: This year, 135 people may die every day due to drought in Somalia

Consecutive years of failed rains may have caused this longest, most severe drought in the country’s history

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Wednesday 22 March 2023
Photo: iStock

At least 43,000 people died due to drought in Somalia in 2022, according to estimates in a new study. This year may be worse, it added. 

The total number of human deaths forecast for January was 18,100 and that for June 34,200, stated the report released March 19, 2023.

This means 135 people may die each day due to drought in Somalia, the study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Health and Human Services along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. The drought crisis is far from over and is much more severe than the 2017-2018 drought crisis. 

Around 50 per cent of the deaths in 2022 may have occurred among children under the age of five as a result of consecutive failed rainy seasons, said the study done by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Imperial College London.

The projections in the study are based on a statistical model which estimated that the crude death rate increased across Somalia from 0.33 deaths per 10,000 person-days over the period of January–December 2022 to 0.38.

The highest death rates were estimated to have occurred in south-central Somalia, especially the areas around Bay, Bakool and Banadir regions, which is the current epicentre of the drought.

The rate in children younger than five years was nearly double these levels. In 2023, the crude death rate has been forecast to increase to 0.42 deaths per 10,000 person-days by June 2023.

Climatic event, health crisis

The findings of the study may not be surprising as Somalia is one of the countries in the Horn of Africa region that entered into the sixth consecutive wet season with no rain in March this year. 

Somalia is facing a climatic event not seen in at least four decades. The consecutive rain deficit seasons leading to drought in the region is a climate-led crisis, stated the Africa State of Climate 2021 report. 

The current drought is the longest and the most severe in recent history and has surpassed the 2010-11 and 2016-17 droughts in terms of duration and severity, stated United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)

When 7.6 million people or close to half of the population in Somalia is in need of humanitarian assistance, the situation is exacerbated by climate change-induced extreme weather. Political instability, ethnic tensions and insecurity has further worsened the crisis. 

The drought now coincides with the rapidly increasing global food prices, intensification of insecurity in some regions and the socioeconomic aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Drought worsens health, nutrition outcomes

Deaths and diseases thrive when hunger and food crises prolong due to drought. So, more people may die from disease than from hunger and malnutrition combined, if we do not act now, said Dr Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO Country Representative, Somalia. 

Strengthening health and nutrition services and undertaking large-scale immunisation campaigns will be pivotal to prevent excess mortality, the report noted.

Moreover, droughts worsen public health and nutrition concerns, since people are forced to leave their homes in search of food and water, putting their health and safety at risk.

Drought-induced displacement has increased five times since the beginning of 2022, with more than 1.3 million people displaced by the end of last year, according to the Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview 2023.

Acute shortage of water exposes vulnerable people to additional risk. About eight million people lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities, the most recent (february 2023) estimates of UNOCHA noted.

The shortage of clean water and sanitation leads to waterborne diseases like cholera. The cholera outbreak reported across 26 drought-affected districts in 2022 continues unabated, according to the latest WHO update.

Cholera cases reported in drought-affected places of Somalia (2021–2023)

Source: WHO, March 2023 

Poor access to safe water jeopardises chances of human survival, especially in children, according to UNICEF.

At least five million people are facing acute food insecurity and nearly two million are at risk of malnutrition in the country.

From the very beginning of this drought, WHO has clearly stated that it is a health crisis as much as it is a food and climate crisis, said Malik. “WHO’s main concern has been to prevent excess deaths directly or indirectly attributed to drought, with a special focus on women and children under five.”

Around $2.6 billion is required by UNOCHA to respond to the drought in Somalia but just 15 per cent of the funds are available. 

Response plan & appeal requirements

Source: UNOCHA 

The study highlighted the need for a sustained multi-sectoral humanitarian response to reduce preventable deaths, particularly among the most vulnerable groups — children younger than 5 years and those living in hard-to-reach areas. 

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