Droughts in Somalia may have killed an estimated 43,000 people last year, a new report by the Somali government and United Nations said.
The report released Monday said half of the drought-related deaths may have occurred among children under the age of 5.
The highest death rates were estimated to have occurred in south central Somalia, including the Bay, Bakool and Banadir regions — the current epicenter of the drought according to the report — which presents retrospective estimates of mortality across Somalia from January to December 2022.
Somalia's Ministry of Health, and two U.N. organizations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released the report.
“This report has clearly indicated that the impact of the drought that is unprecedented in this country had a severe impact on the lives of the people of Somalia,” WHO Somali Representative Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik told VOA Somali.
Malik said because of the droughts the estimated number of deaths in 2022 is 208,000. In the absence of droughts, the number of deaths expected was estimated to be 165,000 people.
"The difference is 43,000, and this is what we are calling 'excess deaths' meaning that these 43,000 deaths would not have happened if there was no drought or food hunger-like situation in 2022 in Somalia. So that's the interpretation we are giving."
Malik said due to hunger in Somalia, immunity to diseases has gone down, which caused the deaths.
"Some of the diseases, which are easily preventable like measles, diarrhea diseases, cholera have killed these 43,000 people, excess in number compared to the usual number," he said.
"I think it was [an] inability to provide health care during that period that claimed the lives of these people, some of these deaths are preventable and this is the learning that we are doing. We need to bring health care and health services closer to the people where they are."
The report warns that although famine has been averted, the drought situation is not over. The report estimates that from January to June this year, 135 people might also die each day due to the hunger crisis, with total deaths projected to fall between 18,100 and 34,200 during this period.
"We continue to be concerned about the level and scale of the public health impact of this deepening and protracted food crisis in Somalia," said Somali Minister of Health Dr. Ali Haji Adam.
He said he is optimistic that the risk of famine can be pushed back if ongoing health and nutrition efforts are sustained and scaled.
"We, therefore, urge all our partners and donors to continue to support the health sector in building a resilient health system that works for everyone and not for the few," he said.
"Building a healthier and happier world for all Somalis remains at the heart of our government."
Humanitarian agencies in Somalia said droughts in the country have affected 7.8 million people and are blamed for 3.5 million livestock deaths.
The International Rescue Committee said it's "deeply concerned" by the report.
"These deaths are absolutely preventable," Shashwat Saraf, IRC's Regional Emergency Director of East Africa, said in a statement.
Saraf urged the U.N. to prioritize countries at the highest risk, such as Somalia, and urged donors to support a national effort to extend lifesaving malnutrition treatment to children in need.