The famine in Somalia during 2011 and 2012 claimed a quarter of a million lives, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. Half of the victims were small children. The toll is double previous estimates.
A joint study released on Thursday by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) concludes that 258,000 people died during Somalia's hunger catastrophe between October 2010 and April 2012.
Of these, 133,000 were children younger than 5, according to the report.
The toll amounts to even more than the 220,000 deaths estimated over 12 months during Somalia's 1992 famine, which grabbed world media attention.
Previous estimates of Somalia's 2011-12 famine had put the death toll at between 50,000 and 100,000.
"The report confirms we should have done more before the famine was declared," said Philippe Lazzarini, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia in a statement released on Thursday in Nairobi.
"Warnings that began as far back as the drought in 2010 did not trigger sufficient early action," Lazzarini said. "The suffering played out like a drama without witnesses."
Reacting to the study's findings on Thursday, Senait Gebregziabher, a regional director of the British charity Oxfam, said famines "are not natural phenomena: They are catastrophic political failures."
Chronology of disaster
Extreme drought across the Horn of Africa in 2011 affected more than 13 million people.
On July 20, 2011, the United Nations had officially declared a famine in numerous Somali regions. Hundreds of thousands fled Somalia into neighboring countries, notably Kenya. By UN definitions, a famine would represent at least a fifth of households facing extreme food shortages, with two deaths per 10,000 people every day.
In February of 2012, the United Nations declared that the famine had ended.
The joint FAO-FEWS NET study is described as the first scientific estimate of how many Somalis died during the latest famine.
Oxfam's Gebregziabher urged world leaders who will meet next week in London at the Somalia 2013 Conference to "take steps to ensure that this was Somalia's last famine."
The solutions must include long-term development, job creation and ensuring security, said Gebregziabher.
After more than two decades of civil war, Somalia remains one of the world's most dangerous places for inhabitants, including aid workers, but security has slowly improved after gradual advances by African Union (AU) and Somali government troops against Islamist Shebab fighters linked to al-Qaeda.
FAO chief lauds aid efforts
In late April, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told African leaders at a conference in Rome that Africa had "an enormous window of opportunity," to eradicate hunger across the continent.
He said the key lay in capitalizing on solutions already found by numerous African nations to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition, including the creation of an Africa Food Security Trust Fund.
"By building on these experiences we can eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. Together we can stop the suffering of the estimated 23 percent of all Africans who remain undernourished, and 40 percent of children under 5 who are stunted or malnourished," da Silva said.
ipj/dr (AFP, dpa)