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05/03/2013

Climate change a likely factor in Somalia famine

Somalia
A child is weighed at a field hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Dadaab, Kenya. (AP photo)

Climate change likely played a role in the Somalia famine which killed about 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under the age of 5, a new study states.

The death toll is more than double previous estimates.

“Although we can’t attribute the drought that caused the famine directly to climate change, it’s likely that climate change played a role,” said Harry Shannon, a professor at the McMaster University who was one of the contributors to the study.

The study was funded and commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU) and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

Shannon said the Somalia famine means we can expect more droughts like this one in the future. “It’s also disturbing how long it took the aid agencies to react to the growing signs of famine," he said.

The study says a combination of events triggered the famine.

The year before the famine was declared it was the driest ever in the eastern Horn of Africa in 60 years. The result was widespread livestock deaths, the smallest cereal harvest since the 1991-94 civil war, and a major drop in labour demand, which reduced household income.

The UN declared the famine’s end in February 2012.

A recent study suggested that climate change played a role in Arab Spring. It said that interplay between climate change, food prices and politics is a hidden stressor that helped fuel the revolutions.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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