An estimated 43,000 people died during the longest drought on record in Somalia last year, with half of them likely to have been children, according to a new report.
It is the first official death toll announced in the drought withering large parts of the Horn of Africa.
At least 18,000 people are forecast to die in the first six months of this year.
“The current crisis is far from over,” said the report released on Monday by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations children’s agency and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Somalia and neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya are facing a sixth consecutive failed rainy season while rising global food prices complicate the hunger crisis.
The UN and partners said earlier this year that they are no longer forecasting a formal famine declaration for Somalia for now but called the situation “extremely critical” with more than six million people hungry in that country alone.
Famine is the extreme lack of food and a significant death rate from outright starvation or malnutrition combined with diseases like cholera.
A formal famine declaration means data shows more than a fifth of households have extreme food gaps, some 30% of children are acutely malnourished and more than two people out of 10,000 are dying every day.
Some humanitarian and climate officials have warned that trends are worse this year than in the 2011 famine in Somalia in which a quarter of a million people died.
Millions of livestock have died in the current crisis compounded by climate change and insecurity as Somalia battles thousands of fighters with al Qaida’s East Africa affiliate, al Shabab. The UN migration agency says 3.8 million people have been displaced – a record high.
A food security assessment released last month said nearly half a million children in Somalia are likely to be severely malnourished this year.
Many humanitarian officials have said that this time the world is looking elsewhere.
“Many of the traditional donors have washed their hands and focused on Ukraine,” the UN’s resident co’ordinator in Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, told visiting US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a briefing in Mogadishu in January.