Drought in the Horn of Africa plunges 20 million people into hunger
A girl looks on as she sits on the bank of the Shabelle River in the town of Gode, Ethiopia, on April 8, 2022. AFP PHOTO
NAIROBI: From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia, swaths of land in the Horn of Africa are being ravaged by a drought that has put 20 million people at risk of starvation.
A donors’ conference last week raised nearly $1.4 billion for the region, which the UN says is facing its worst drought in 40 years.
In the disaster areas, people live mainly from livestock and subsistence agriculture.
They are experiencing their fourth consecutive poor rainy season since the end of 2020, a situation exacerbated by an invasion of desert locusts which wiped out crops between 2019 and 2021.
“The number of people suffering from drought-related hunger could rise from the currently estimated 14 million to 20 million by 2022,” the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said last month.
Six million Somalis – 40% of the population – face extreme levels of food insecurity and there is “a very real risk of starvation in the coming months” if current conditions prevail, the state said last week. United Nations humanitarian response agency OCHA.
In addition, 6.5 million people in Ethiopia are “acutely food insecure”, he added, as well as 3.5 million in Kenya.
Across the region, one million people have been driven from their homes by lack of water and pasture, and at least three million head of cattle have perished, OCHA said.
“We must act now…if we are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative to the African Union, Chimimba David Phiri, during a a UN briefing in Geneva in April.
Experts say extreme weather events are occurring with increased frequency and intensity due to climate change.
Dire conditions in the Horn of Africa have been amplified by the war in Ukraine, which has contributed to soaring food and fuel prices, disrupted global supply chains and diverted aid money of the region.
A malnourished child sits in a bed next to her mother at the nutrition unit of Kelafo health center in Kelafo town, 120 kilometers from Gode town, Ethiopia, April 7, 2022. AFP PHOTO
children in need
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said 10 million children in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia needed urgent life-saving assistance due to the crisis.
“A total of 1.7 million children suffer from severe malnutrition in the sub-region,” she said in a statement after a four-day visit to Ethiopia last week.
Russell said the lack of clean water was increasing the risk of disease among children, while hundreds of thousands of people had dropped out of school, with many having to walk long distances in search of food and water.
East Africa suffered an excruciating drought in 2017, but early humanitarian action averted a famine in Somalia.
But in 2011, 260,000 people, half of them children under the age of six, starved to death in the troubled country, in part because the international community failed to act fast enough, according to the UN.
Beyond the direct and potentially fatal consequences for the people affected, the shortage of water and pasture is a source of inter-community conflicts, particularly among livestock breeders.
Drought also threatens the animal world. Livestock such as cattle – an essential source of sustenance in the region – are dying in droves.
Wildlife is also threatened. In Kenya, there have been many cases of wild animals such as giraffes or antelopes perishing from lack of water and food, their carcasses rotting on the arid scrubland.
Under drought conditions, wildlife will leave their usual habitat for water or food, often moving closer to developed areas.
In central Kenya, big cats have attacked herds of cattle, while elephants or buffaloes have grazed on farmland, angering local residents.