Focus: Somalia, one of the most troubled countries in the world: economic and social figures

on .

Written by Dario Ruggiero (July 2013)
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world: Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010 (latest available data) was $5.9 bn (in terms of Purchasing Power Parity - PPP); it is almost nothing compared with United States’s ($15,940 bn) and world’s total GDP ($74,879 bn). Its GDP per capita was $600 in 2010, less than $2 a day per person.

But it is not only the low GDP that makes Somalia so poor. The problem lays in a mix of political and climate circumstances that stifle Somalia’s development. According to James Fergusson, author of “The World’s Most Dangerous Place”, a book that deeply analyses social and security problems in Somalia, the latest famine (that killed almost 260,000 people) was ”essentially a man-made disaster” and “blame for it can be laid squarely at the door of Al Shabaab”. Similar conclusions come from the recent FAO/Fews Net Report that estimated the toll of deaths due to famine in Somalia (FAO/Fews Net, May 2013) . It says that “the humanitarian response to the famine was mostly late and insufficient, and that limited access to most of the affected population, resulting from widespread insecurity and operating restrictions imposed on several relief agencies, was a major constraint”.

The biggest problem in Somalia is its political instability. Since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in the early 1990s, Somalia's residents reverted to local forms of conflict resolution, consisting of civil law, religious law and customary law. A few autonomous regions, including the Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug administrations, emerged in the north in the ensuing process of decentralization and Al Shabaab emerged as an autonomous Islamist group, now linked with Al Qaeda (Lewis I. M, 2002 and 2008). According to the most recent Report on Somalia by the Armed Confilct Location and Event Dataset (ACLED), a dataset designed for disaggregated conflict analysis and crisis mapping in over 50 countries in the developing world, “Al Shabaab continues to pose a threat to the stability of the federal government and undermine the new regime’s ability to establish and maintain lasting security and peace… However, Al Sha-baab is far from the only violent actor in the city. Analysis of interaction data reveals a very high level of violence perpetrated by unidentified armed groups”. (ACLED, April 2013)

Moreover, according to ACLED dataset, Somalia is one the most dangerous place among the countries analyzed: Somalia is the most violent country when measured on number of violent events; and the ninth most fatal country when measured in terms of conflict-related reported fatalities.
Graph - Most violent states in 2012
(number of violent events in 2012)

Source: Our elaboration on ACLAD dataset
How to make Somali resources work? Two good solutions come from James Fergusson’s latest book: 1) Oil and gas sector; 2) the diaspora of Somali (especially young) citizens. (James Fergusson, 2013)
“It has long been suspected that Somalia sits above large untapped reserves of oil and gas. Their exploitation could turn around the economic fortunes of this impoverished country. But there is a long way to go yet. After 25 years of war and insecurity, foreign energy firms have still only just begun prospecting there. The diaspora is likelier to prove Somalia’s salvation. Some 2m Somalis live abroad, and the money they remit to friends and family back home far outstrips foreign aid spending there. Somalia’s greatest asset may be those many young Somalis who have grown up in the West, absorbing Western skills, education and values. A great many of these young Somalis want to go back to help rebuild their shattered homeland. It is imperative that Western governments – particularly the US, the UK, and Scandinavia where Western Somali exiles are mostly concentrated – listen to this younger generation, and do all they can to encourage their vision for a better Somalia.”
James Fergusson – July 2013,
We strongly think that every land in the world has its resources. The survivor and prosperity of the population living on it depend substantially on the rational and organized use of these sources, together with a good international politics. Somalia can solve its problems and make life better for its citizens, only if communal conflicts come to an end, and an infrastructural strategic plan is put in place.
Thanks are due to James Fergusson, Journalist, author of “The world’s most dangerous place”, for his availability in being interviewed on this topic. (see James Fergusson’s Interview)
“Severe drought in Somalia is a cyclical event, 
but it does not have to lead to famine. Nomads have survived 
for centuries by fleeing the drought zones and finding new pastures 
for their livestock. 2011 was essentially a man-made disaster – 
and blame for it can be laid squarely at the door of Al Shabaab…”
(James Fergusson,
Somalia’s demographic and social structure
Among the 57 African countries, Somalia places 30th in terms of population size. It has 10.2 million people, accounting for 0.9% of total African population (about 1 bn). Its population size is lower than African average (about 20 million people) and similar to that of Tunisia and Benin. Between 1960 and 2012 Somalia’s population grew from 2.8m to 10.2m, with a growth rate (+269.9%) a little bit lower than the African population average growth rate (+278.9%).
Graph - Population in Somalia and other African countries
(millions of people)
Source: Our elaboration on United Nation Population division
As for Somalia’s population pyramid, 47.7% of total Somali population is younger than 14 (26.6% is the world average for this age class), 49.5% of the population is in the so called working age (15-64 years old) (65.7% as for the world average) and only 2.8% of the population is made of people older than 65 (7.7% is the world average). Somalia’s population is even younger than Africa’s, where 41.1% is younger than 14 years old (47.7% as for Somalia). In 1950 Somalia had a population pyramid more similar to the current African one, but over the last 60 years Somali population has become younger, with an increase of the % weight of people with an age lower than 14 and a decrease of people positioned in the working age. By 2020 it seems that the process will reverse again, with a new increase in the share of the working age population in Somalia.
Graph - Population Pyramid in Somalia

Source: Our elaboration on United Nation Population division
Finally, let’s take a look at some other data and indexes that explain Somali demographic structure. In the 1950-2010 period Somali population grew by 325.6%, more than the world population growth rate, but less than the African one. In 2050 the number of people living in Somalia will reach 27.1m, increasing its African % share (from 0.9% in 2012 to 1.1% in 2050). In 2010 in Somalia there were on average 15 people per sq km, less than the African average (34) and the world average (51). As a consequence of its pyramid structure, Somali population has a big dependency ratio (there are 102 people out of the working age per each 100 people in the working age; the index is 80 for Africa and 52 for the world). However, it is not due to the aged population, but to the child one, as the child population ratio is 96.4, accounting for almost the total dependency ratio. The traditional indexes of population dynamic are typical of a developing country: birth rate, death rate and infant mortality rate are higher than the world average; life expectancy at birth and urbanization rate are both lower.
Table - Main demographic data in Somalia
  Somalia Africa World
Population size      
Population in 2012 (m) 10.2 1,080.6 1,023.1
Population growth (1950-2010) % 325.6 350.6 173.8
Population in 2050 (m) 27.1 2,393.2 9,550.9
Population density      
Number of people per sq km (2010) 15.0 34.0 51.0
Population Pyramid (2010)      
Population (Age 0-14) % 47.7 41.1 26.6
Population (Age 15-64) % 49.5 55.4 65.7
Population (Age 65 and older) % 2.8 3.4 7.7
Dependency ratio 102.0 80.3 52.2
Child dependency ratio 96.4 74.2 40.5
Aged dependency ratio 5.7 6.1 11.7
Source: Our elaboration on United Nation Population division
Table – Main demographic indexes in Somalia
  Somalia World
Birth rate (n° of births per 1,000 people) (2013 E) 41.5 18.9
Death rate (n° of deaths per 1,000 people) (2013 E) 14.2 7.9
Infant mortality rate (n° of deaths per 1,000 births) (2013 E) 101.9 37.6
Life expectancy at birth (years) (2013 E) 51.2 68.1
Total fertility rate (n° of children born per each woman) (2013 E) 6.2 2.5
Urban population (% of total population) (2010) 37.0 50.5
Source: Our elaboration on CIA Factbook
Is Somalia one of the poorest countries in the world?
Somalia’s GDP in 2010 (latest data available) was $5.9bn (in terms of Purchasing Power Parity); it is almost nothing compared with United States’s ($15,940bn) and world’s total GDP ($74,879bn). Somalia’s GDP ranks 165th in the world table and 36th in the African one. South Africa, that is the biggest African economy, had a GDP of $528bn in 2010, followed by Egypt and Nigeria. Somalia’s economic size is similar to that of Swaziland, Togo, Burundi and Eritrea. Somalia performs worse in terms of GDP per capita (PPP); its value was $600 in 2010, and ranks Somalia at 225th (there are only two countries in the world with a worse performance – Kosovo, and Democratic Republic of Congo), together with Burundi and Zimbabwe. This means that an average person in Somalia lives with less than 2 dollars a day. However, GDP growth in 2010 was 2.6%, positive, but low for a developing country. The Economy structure in Somalia is that typical of a developing country with a great chunk of GDP deriving from Agriculture sectors (59.3%), also more than other comparable (in terms of GDP) African countries, like Rwanda, Eritrea and Djibouti; the share of Industry in GDP is very low (7.2%).
Graph – GDP*, GDP per capita and population in African countries, 2010
* GDP is represented by the bubble size
Source: Our elaboration on IMF (WEO April 2013) and CIA Factbook
Table – Main Macroeconomic data in Somalia
  Somalia Somalia's rank (on 229 countries) United States South Africa Rwanda Eritrea Djibouti
GDP at PPP Int.$ bn (2010) 5.9 165th 15,940.0 592.0 15.7 4.5 2.4
GDP per capita at PPP Int. $ PPP (2010) 600 225th 50,700 11,600 1,500 800 2,700
GDP real growth (2010 % change on previous year) 2.6 118th 2.2 2.5 7.7 7.0 4.8
Economy's structure (2012 E), GDP % share              
Agriculture 59.3 - 1.1 2.6 33.3 12.4 3.1
Industry 7.2 - 19.2 29.3 13.9 29.2 16.9
Services 33.5 - 79.7 68.1 52.9 58.4 80.0
Source: Our elaboration on CIA Factbook
Despite the lack of effective national governance, Somalia has maintained a healthy informal economy, largely based on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications. Agriculture is the most important sector with livestock normally accounting for about 40% of GDP and more than 50% of export earnings. Nomads and semi-pastoralists, who are dependent upon livestock for their livelihood, make up a large portion of the population. Livestock, hides, fish, charcoal, and bananas are Somalia's principal exports, while sugar, sorghum, corn, qat, and machined goods are the principal imports. Somalia's small industrial sector, based on the processing of agricultural products, has largely been looted and the machinery sold as scrap metal. Somalia's service sector has grown. Telecommunication firms provide wireless services in most major cities and offer the lowest international call rates on the continent. In the absence of a formal banking sector, money transfer/remittance services have sprouted throughout the country, handling up to $1.6 billion in remittances annually. Mogadishu's main market offers a variety of goods from food to the newest electronic gadgets. Somalia's arrears to the IMF have continued to grow. Somalia's capital city - Mogadishu - has enjoyed a rebirth following the departure of al-Shabaab in August 2011 (see the next paragraph). Mogadishu has witnessed the development of the city's first gas stations, supermarkets, and flights between Europe (Istanbul-Mogadishu) since the collapse of central authority in 1991. This economic growth has yet to expand outside of Mogadishu.
Now let’s take a look at trade relations of Somalia with the rest of the world. In 2012 Exports of Somalia were $516m (171st in the world rank); Exports were prevalently destined to the United Arab Emirates (50.8%). Imports in 2012 were $1.3bn, more than double the value of the exports; so the trade balance in 2012 was negative (-$747 m); imports came prevalently from India (27.4%) and Kenya (12%), but were much more diversified compared with exports. Finally, in terms of fuel, Somalia doesn’t have proved reserves (but It is supposed It to have reserves – see Interview with James Fergusson) ; so it is forced to imports crude or refined Oil. In particular, it imports 1,000 barrels (bbl) per day of Crude Oil and 2,900 barrels per day of refined petroleum products.
Somalia: a political troubled country
Since its independence from England and Italy in 1960, Somalia had no easy times for its population. The rise and the following collapse of General Muhammad Siad Barre, then the civil war with the emergence of clan-based forces and Islamist groups. Now a Federal government has emerged and the political situation seems to be stabilizing. This paragraph gives a detailed representation of Somali’s history from 1960 to 2012.
1960-1991: from the independence to the collapse of the Siad Barre regime
Somalia became a fully independent republic in 1960 through a merger of the two former colonial territories, British and Italian Somaliland. On July 20, 1961, through a popular referendum, the people of Somalia ratified a new constitution. From that date, Somalia was involved in disputes with its neighbors because of its insistence on the right of all Somalis to self-determination, wherever they have settled (in the Ogaden district of Ethiopia and in northeast Kenya).

The first president of Somalia was Aden Abdullah Osman, who was succeeded in 1967 by Dr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke of the Somali Youth League (the dominant political party). In October 1969, President Shermarke was assassinated, and the army seized power under Major - General Muhammad Siad Barre. He suspended the 1960 constitution, dissolved the national assembly, banned all political parties, and formed a military government. In 1970 he declared Somalia a socialist state. His government invested in public works and in a successful campaign to improve literacy.

In 1976, the junta transferred power to the newly created Somalia Revolutionary Socialist Party, and three years later (1979) the constitution for a one-party state was adopted. Over the next few years Barre consolidated his position by increasing the influence of his own clan and reducing that of his northern rival, despite often violent opposition.

In 1977–78 Somalia fought a war against neighboring Ethiopia in support of Somalis living in the Ogaden province, who sought self-determination. After initial military success, the Somali army was defeated by Ethiopia, who received Cuban and Soviet Union military support.

Military defeat damaged the prestige of the Barre regime, which became increasingly authoritarian as opposition to it grew. In 1982 the anti-government Somali National Movement (SNM) was formed in the north. Oppressive countermeasures by the government led to an estimated 50–60,000 civilian deaths by 1990 and 400,000 refugees fleeing to Ethiopia.

Although Barre was re-elected in 1987, the SNM had taken control of large parts of the north and east of the country. Barre survived an attempted coup in January 1991. However, with rebel forces advancing rapidly, on 27 January 1991 he fled the capital and was replaced as president by Ali Mahdi Muhammad. Civil war broke out across the country and, in May 1991, the area in the northwest which had once been British Somaliland announced its secession, as the Somaliland Republic, with Abdel-Rahman Ahmed Ali, leader of the SNM, as its president (replaced by Muhammad Ibrahim Egal in 1993). The Somalian government refused to recognize its independence and launched a succession of military campaigns in an attempt to re-occupy it.

The four rival Somali factions (United Somali Congress (USC), Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), and Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), signed a ceasefire in June 1991, but this failed to hold. Fierce fighting broke out in September 1991 and continued, and by the end of the year 20,000 people had been killed or injured. By April 1992 ex-president Barre abandoned his attempt to return to power and took his family and the remnants of his army into exile in Kenya.

1991-2006: UN peacekeeping operations in Somalia and the transitional governments (TNG and TFG)

Following the outbreak of the civil war and the ensuing collapse of the Siad Barre regime in the early 1990s, Somalia's residents reverted to local forms of conflict resolution, consisting of civil law, religious law and customary law. A few autonomous regions, including the Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug administrations, emerged in the north in the ensuing process of decentralization.

In August 1992, due to the rising famine, a coalition government agreed a UN military presence to support relief efforts. The UN Security Council authorized this peacekeeping operation, called UNOSOM, and the USA organized its largest relief operation to Africa, ‘Operation Restore Hope’.

In December 1992, a contingent of 1,800 US Marines landed in Mogadishu, under UN auspices, and seized control of the harbor and airport. They were the first of a planned US military presence of 30,000; France and Italy also committed themselves to sending troops. Two days later the two dominant warlords in the area, Ali Mahdi Muhammad and Gen Muhammad Farah Aidid, both of the USC, agreed a UN-brokered truce. They signed a peace plan on 15 January 1992, but factional fighting continued in remote areas.

The warlord Gen Aidid saw UN efforts to promote peace and a federal political system as a threat to his power and, in June 1993, his militia attacked and killed 24 Pakistani peacekeeping troops who were part of UNOSOM. Fighting between the two escalated and 12 US troops were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993. US president Bill Clinton announced in March 1994 a staggered withdrawal of US troops and in November 1994 the UN Security Council voted to withdraw UN forces. Full withdrawal of UN troops was achieved by March 1995, although the rule of law had not been restored.

Clan-based fighting continued, and the power struggle between Aidid and Ali Mahdi Muhammad resumed. In early 1996, Aidid launched a campaign to try and re-occupy the Somaliland Republic, but he was assassinated in faction fighting in July 1996, and, his son, Hussein Aidid, replaced him as interim president of Somalia. In 1997 and 1998 rival Somali factions signed peace agreements, but they did not hold. In 1999, the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia, in support of opponents of the war lord Hussein Aidid.

The early 2000s saw the creation of fledgling interim federal administrations. The Transitional National Government (TNG) was established in 2000 followed by the formation of its successor the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004, which reestablished national institutions such as the Military of Somalia.

More in details, in July 2000, after a four-month Somali reconciliation conference held in neighboring Djibouti, a power-sharing agreement was reached and a national constitution agreed for a three-year transitional period. A transitional parliament was elected in August 2000, with Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, a former interior minister under Siad Barre, chosen as Somalia's civilian president. Somaliland and Puntland both rejected the new government. The new government proved incapable of establishing order and nationwide rule, as heavy fighting broke out between rival militias in 2001.

In April 2002, Southwestern Somalia became the third part of the country to break away from Mogadishu and declare itself an autonomous state, as the civil war continued. After peace talks in Kenya, a new transitional parliament was set up in August 2004 and in October 2004 it elected the warlord Abdullahi Yusuf, previously president of Puntland, as transitional president and Ali Muhammad Gedi as prime minister.

2006-2011: the Islamic Courts Union and peace talks in Djibouti

In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist organization, assumed control of much of the southern part of the country and promptly imposed Shari'a law. The Transitional Federal Government sought to reestablish its authority, and, with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeepers and air support by the United States, managed to drive out the rival ICU and solidify its rule. The ICU subsequently splintered into more radical groups such as Al-Shabaab (see the next paragraph), which battled the TFG and its AMISOM allies for control of the region, with the insurgents losing most of the territory that they had seized by mid-2012.

Between 31 May and 9 June 2008, representatives of Somalia's federal government and the moderate Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) group of Islamist rebels participated in peace talks in Djibouti brokered by the former United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. The conference ended with a signed agreement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in exchange for the cessation of armed confrontation.

With the help of a small team of African Union troops, the coalition government also began a counteroffensive in February 2009 to assume full control of the southern half of the country. To solidify its rule, the TFG formed an alliance with the Islamic Courts Union, other members of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, and Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, a moderate Sufi militia. Furthermore, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two main Islamist groups in opposition, began to fight amongst themselves in mid-2009.

2011-2012: the new Constitution and the born of Somali Federation

In 2011-2012, a Roadmap political process providing clear benchmarks leading toward the establishment of permanent democratic institutions was launched. Within this administrative framework, a new Provisional Constitution was passed in August 2012, which designates Somalia as a federation. Following the end of the TFG's interim mandate the same month, the Federal Government of Somalia, the first permanent central government in the country since the start of the civil war, was also formed. The nation has concurrently experienced a period of intense reconstruction, particularly in the capital, Mogadishu.

On September 10, 2012, parliament also elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new President of Somalia. President Mohamud later appointed Abdi Farah Shirdon as the new Prime Minister on October 6, 2012. On November 4, 2012, Shirdon named a new Cabinet, which was later endorsed by the legislature on November 13, 2012. At the behest of Somalia's federal authorities, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously approved a draft resolution on 6 March 2013 to suspend the 21-year arms embargo on Somalia, the oldest such global weapons blockade.
Islamist groups in Somalia: The persistence of Al-Shabaab
Note: This part is mainly taken from: Acled country report on Somalia (April 2013) -
After its defeat in 2006 by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the TFG's Ethiopian military allies, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), splintered into several smaller factions. Al Shaabab is the most important. It is the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, formally recognized in 2012. As of 2012, the outfit controls large swathes of the southern parts of the country, where it is said to have imposed its own strict form of Sharia law. Al-Shabaab's troop strength as of May 2011 was estimated at 14,426 militants.

Al Shabaab was originally founded in the early 2000s after splitting from Al Ittihad al Islamiya. The group became most prominent from 2006 onwards when it seized control of Mogadishu in a joint campaign with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In late-2006, Ethiopia invaded and occupied much of Mogadishu with limited resistance: Al Shabaab was pushed out and became the most prominent militant force in South-Central Somalia, gaining control of almost all of the territory outside the capital and into parts of the Central Mudug region.

Until an intensified campaign by African Union and Somali forces in late-2010, Al Shabaab continued to control considerable territory within and surrounding Mogadishu, but in the past three years this has been reduced considerably. Ethiopian and Kenyan involvement in the campaign since late 2011 – and the integration of the latter into the official African Union AMISOM forces – has contributed to the increased momentum of the federal government’s success in retaking territory.

As of early 2013, the federal government and aligned forces had retaken all major urban centres in South-Central Somalia, with Al Shabaab relocating its headquarters to the town of Jilib in Middle Juba, and retaining control over largely rural areas.

Over the course of these events, the group has undergone considerable transformation. Since 2012, the group has been formally aligned to Al Qaeda, thereby definitively preventing any possible role in a negotiated resolution. Tactically, the group has also evolved: during periods of relatively uncontested control over territory, there were limited reports of Al Shabaab engaging in targeted violence against civilians. Then theis kind of violence has risen a lot.

This evolution in tactics reflects the group’s reduced organisational capacity. With reduced forces and capacity, however, the group can still have a significant destabilising effect. When Ethiopian forces temporarily withdrew from Hudur in March 2013, Al Shabaab was prepared and in position to retake the town quickly, facilitated by the group’s sustained – though low-level – presence and activity.

The group has also evolved territorially: while the federal government has made significant progress in formally ousting Al Shabaab authorities throughout the South Central region, Al Shabaab operatives and aligned militants remain active in recently seized territory and in the capital, Mogadishu. While Al Shabaab attacks and fatalities in the capital have been declining since the AMISOM-led campaign to regain the capital they continue to be a presence in Heliwa, Yaqshid, Wardighley and Daynile areas in particular.

Furthermore, under military pressure in South-Central Somalia, Al Shabaab has expanded both southwards and to the north-east. In the former, Al Shabaab militants and aligned combatants have been active in north-eastern Kenya, where they continue to have a destabilising effect on security. In Somalia’s north-east, Al Shabaab militants have been reportedly operating and establishing bases in the rural and relatively inaccessible region of Bari. Establishing themselves in this region and aligning themselves with local militias may provide them with an opportunity to regroup.

In conclusion, while Al Shabaab has been undoubtedly weakened by the intensified campaign against it, it remains organisationally viable and is adapting its reduced capacity to new theatres of violence. In both direct and indirect ways, it continues to pose a threat to the stability of the federal government and undermines the new regime’s ability to establish and maintain lasting security and peace.
Graph - Conflict Events and Reported Fatalities, Somalia
(2009 - March 2013)

Source: ACLED, April 2013
Somali famine in 2010-2012

Note: This part is mainly taken from: FAO/Fews Net Report on Famine in Somalia (May 2013) -

“Severe drought in Somalia is a cyclical event, but it does not have to lead to famine. Nomads have survived for centuries by fleeing the drought zones and finding new pastures for their livestock. 2011 was essentially a man-made disaster – and blame for it can be laid squarely at the door of Al Shabaab…”
James Fergusson – July 2013,
Between late 2010 and early 2012, southern and central Somalia experienced severe food insecurity and malnutrition precipitated by a prolonged period of drought resulting in the poorest harvests since the 1992-1993 famine. A La Niña meteorological event created drought conditions throughout the Horn of Africa in 2010-2011. Southern and, to a lesser extent, central regions of Somalia experienced particularly reduced rainfall, resulting in a high proportion of crop failure compared to previous years.
Graph - Estimated cereal production quantities by year (Somalia southern regions only)
(metric tonnes)

Source: FAO/FSNAU Technical Series Report No. VI (42)
The effects of the drought were compounded by various factors including decreased humanitarian assistance and increasing food prices. Furthermore, this emergency occurred against a backdrop of heightened insecurity and persistent high levels of acute malnutrition, and affected populations whose resilience mechanisms had already been weakened over the past few years by a protracted crisis featuring a combination of armed conflict, natural disasters and adverse economic conditions. The evolving humanitarian emergency situation was detected in a timely way by existing early warning systems run by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FAO/FSNAU) and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). By July 2011, based on criteria established by the multi-partner Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC, an analysis template used globally for determining relative severity of food insecurity), the United Nations declared famine in several regions of Somalia. Based on further data and information collected on food security and nutritional status, disease and mortality, additional regions were designated as famine-affected over the subsequent two months. As a result of this emergency, during 2011 large numbers of people were internally displaced within Somalia or migrated to already overcrowded refugee camp complexes in Dollo Ado (Ethiopia) and Dadaab (Kenya). Measles, cholera and other epidemics, which typically accompany situations of greatly deteriorated nutritional status of the population, were also reported from nearly all affected regions.

There is consensus that the humanitarian response to the famine was mostly late and insufficient, and that limited access to most of the affected population, resulting from widespread insecurity and operating restrictions imposed on several relief agencies, was a major constraint. Based on numerous individual surveys conducted throughout southern and central Somalia by FAO/FSNAU and partners, and in the refugee camps by various other agencies, it was assumed that the impact of these combined events on human health would be severe. Indeed, the surveys indicated that both death rates and the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children were well in excess of emergency thresholds, and far surpassing any value observed in Somalia during the previous five years, at least. However, the estimates of mortality from available surveys did not cover the entire affected population, nor the full period during which food security emergency and famine conditions occurred. Indeed, during the emergency, the United Nations did not issue real-time death toll estimates. In 2012, improved conditions presented an opportunity to take stock of lessons learned and document the effects on health and mortality of exposure to severe food insecurity and malnutrition during 2010 and 2011. Therefore, a study was commissioned by FAO/FSNAU, with substantial technical and financial support from FEWS NET, in order to produce an estimate of the number of deaths during the 2011 Somalia famine, and among refugees displaced to camps in Ethiopia (Dollo Ado) and Kenya (Dadaab).

Based on the most plausible set of population denominator data, the study estimated that 258,000 (244,000 to 273,000) excess deaths attributable to the emergency occurred in southern and central Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012 inclusive, of which some 52% (133,000) among children under 5 years old. The two alternative baseline estimation methods, in which there is less confidence, resulted in higher baseline mortality estimates, so that altogether estimated values of the excess death toll ranged from as low as 143,000 to as high as 273,000.
Table - Summary of estimated excess death toll by region or livelihood type
(Absolute data and percentage of the population)
Region, livelihood Estimated excess death toll (95% percentile interval) Estimated percentage of the population that died in excess of the baseline (95% percentile interval)
  all ages under 5 years all ages under 5 years
Bakool 10,700 (8,300 to 13,200) 5,600 (4,300 to 6,800) 2.9 7.3
Banadir 58,000 (48,000 to 68,900) 27,200 (22,100 to 32,400) 6.2 16.6
Bay 20,700 (18,600 to 22,900) 20,900 (18,200 to 23,900) 6.4 12.7
Galgadud 4,200 (2,000 to 7,700) 4,300 (2,700 to 8,800) 1 4.7
Gedo 17,800 (16,000 to 19,700) 6,400 (5,300 to 7,900) 5 7.1
Hiran 7,400 (5,600 to 9,200) 2,800 (1,900 to 3,800) 1.8 3.2
L. Juba 7,900 (5,900 to 10,100) 3,300 (2,100 to 4,800) 1.8 3.2
L. Shabelle 96,200 (89,200 to 104,200) 42,900 (38,900 to 47,000) 9 17.6
M. Juba 11,900 (10,200 to 14,100) 5,900 (4,800 to 7,300) 4.5 9.8
M. Shabelle 22,200 (19,800 to 24,900) 12,900 (11,600 to 14,300) 3.7 9.7
Mudug 300 (-2,200 to 3,500) 100 (-1,500 to 3,500) 0.1 0.1
Total 257,900 (243,600 to 272,700) 132,900 (124,700 to 142,300) 4.6 10.1
Livelihood types        
agro-pastoralist 69,800 (64,100 to 76,100) 41,600 (37,700 to 45,600) 5 11.2
IDP 68,700 (60,900 to 76,100) 34,400 (29,900 to 39,100) 6.5 14.6
pastoral 34,200 (29,800 to 39,600) 18,700 (15,500 to 24,400) 2.3 5.1
riverine 46,800 (42,200 to 51,700) 22,400 (19,500 to 25,600) 5.1 11.1
urban 38,200 (30,000 to 47,200) 15,500 (12,300 to 19,400) 4.8 10.6
Total 257,900 (243,600 to 272,700) 132,900 (124,700 to 142,300) 4.6 10.1
Source: FAO / Fews Net, May 2013
The highest estimated death tolls were in Banadir, Bay and Lower Shabelle regions. (Note: rare negative numbers in the lower limit of the margin of error indicate that fewer deaths were predicted to occur during the emergency than if baseline conditions had been maintained).

The full toll of the emergency is perhaps easier to visualise when considering the percentage of the population estimated to have died as a result: these are about 4.6 percent overall, peaking in Lower Shabelle at 9 percent for all ages and at 17.6 percent among children under 5 years old.

Prior to 2011, available surveys done in Somalia yielded a crude death rate for all ages (CDR) and an age-specific death rate for children under 5 years old (U5DR) that remained consistently below 2 and 4 deaths per 10,000 people per day respectively, though many of the values recorded were already indicative of emergency conditions. In southern and central Somalia (but not in the rest of the country), a striking peak in recorded mortality is apparent in July-October 2011, with individual CDRs and U5DRs reaching 5-6 and 10-15 per 10,000 per day respectively. A higher baseline in southern and central Somalia compared to regional averages likely reflects underlying factors related to the chronic crisis, including inappropriate feeding practices, limited access to health infrastructure, inadequate water and sanitation services, armed conflict, etc.
Somalia is the traditional African country where a combination of factors makes the economic and social situation unsustainable for the population causing much more victims than in places suffering only from one of these factors. The political instability and the presence of armed conflicts seem to play a crucial role in making worse the consequences of exceptional climate events (such as droughts) on food provisions and social conditions. Somalia as every country in the world has its own resources, especially in terms of youngsters (in particular those educated abroad) that can represent a turning point if well used. The improvement of the national governance, together with Western government’s listening of this younger generations, seem to be a key factor in order to reach such a success. 
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