Somalia's ongoing record drought killed as many as 43,000 people last year, half of them children under 5, researchers said on Monday in the first attempt to estimate country-wide deaths.
After five consecutive failed rainy seasons, half of Somalia's 17 million people are in urgent need of aid, the United Nations has said, although parts of the country avoided a famine declaration last year that some experts had been expecting.
The research, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that half the deaths were children younger than 5, and that the crisis could prove worse than Somalia's last major drought in 2017 and 2018.
The rate of fatalities could rise in first half of 2023, the report said, projecting total deaths for this period at between 18,100 and 34,200.
"These results present a grim picture of the devastation brought on children and their families by the drought," Wafaa Saeed, the United Nations children's agency representative said while presenting the report in Somalia's capital Mogadishu.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which sets the global standard for determining the severity of a food crisis, said last December that famine had been temporarily been averted but warned the situation was getting worse.
Francesco Checci, a co-author of the study, said the lack of a "famine" designation should not distract from the scale of the crisis.
"What we are actually showing is that it isn’t time to slow down in terms of funding and humanitarian response."