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Famine and civil war have resulted in high mortality rates and large population displacements in Somalia.
To assess mortality rates and risk factors for mortality, we carried out surveys in the central Somali towns of Afgoi and Baidoa in November and December, 1992.
In Baidoa we surveyed displaced persons living in camps; the average daily crude mortality rate was 16.8 (95% CI 14.6-19.1) per 10,000 population during the 232 days before the survey.
An estimated 74% of children under 5 years living in displaced persons camps died during this period.
In Afgoi, where both displaced and resident populations were surveyed, the crude mortality rate was 4.7 (3.9-5.5) deaths per 10,000 per day.
Although mortality rates for all displaced persons were high, people living in temporary camps were at highest risk of death.
As in other famine-related disasters, preventable infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhoea were the primary causes of death in both towns.
These mortality rates are among the highest documented for a civilian population over a long period.
Community-based public health interventions to prevent and control common infectious diseases are needed to reduce these exceptionally high mortality rates in Somalia.