Regional governments slow to respond as famine threatens in East Africa
Although tragedy threatens millions of people in East Africa as a catastrophic drought takes its toll, the response from governments across the region has been mixed.
The World Health Organization has warned that millions face starvation and disease in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The situation is further exacerbated by drought, conflict, climate change and rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices.
According to the United Nations World Food Programme, some 22 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are struggling to find enough to eat, and the number is expected to rise.
“Livestock are dying and there are severe water and food shortages,” the WFP said. “More than a million people have fled their homes and are now living in overcrowded camps, where aid workers are scrambling to meet the overwhelming needs.”
WHO is now appealing for a $123.7 million prize pool that will go towards preventing and controlling epidemics as well as treating malnutrition and improving health care delivery in the region.
Although a number of development partners, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the European Union, have stepped in with humanitarian assistance to reach the affected areas, there has been little official response from regional governments.
As food insecurity escalates, some people are forced to choose between paying for food and healthcare, the WHO adds. The situation forces many people to migrate in search of food, which can further increase the risk of disease and reduce access to health services.
A “very severe” drought has hit several districts in Uganda with devastating consequences on food production and nutritional insecurity. In northern Uganda, more than 200 people died of starvation in July alone. Children, the elderly and nursing mothers – groups considered particularly vulnerable – are said to have “die silently” in their homes as the drought intensified and the food shortage situation was compounded by rampant insecurity.
In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, drought has worsened an already dire situation for 6 million people who have been besieged by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces for 21 months. People in Tigray face multiple outbreaks of malaria, anthrax, cholera, diarrhea and more.
By June this year, more than 7 million people in war-torn Somalia were reportedly starving, and more than 200,000 were at risk of starvation. A relentless Islamist insurgency further complicates matters by hampering access to vulnerable populations by humanitarian missions.
The Ukraine-Russia conflict has emerged as an emerging calamity, as soaring food prices have further aggravated the situation for millions of people. Experts have called the dispute Russia’s attempt to blackmail the world with food by blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and thus hampering the export of the country’s grain to world markets.
In neighboring Kenya, drought is reported to have continued to worsen in August in 20 of the 23 Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) counties, the country’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says.
“This is attributed to the poor performance of the long rains of 2021 coupled with the previous three consecutive failed seasons. The number of people in need of assistance is expected to rise to 4.35 million by October 2022 if the short rainy season is below average,” the NBMA notes in its national drought early warning bulletin. August 2022.
The NBMA further reports cases of acute malnutrition in the counties with more than 800,000 cases of children aged 6 to 59 months suffering from acute malnutrition and 115,000 cases of pregnant or nursing women “suffering from acute malnutrition and requiring treatment”. “.
In addition, the current physical condition of most livestock is below normal in the affected regions due to the poor performance of the long rainy season in 2022, which has adversely affected the regeneration of pastures.
As part of measures to help communities cope with the effects of drought, the NBMA recommends the provision of food aid and the scaling up of cash transfers targeting food-insecure households, as well as supplements and animal feed. The NBMA further recommends greater sensitization to improve hygiene promotion and provisions for severe acute malnutrition.
According to UNHCR, the perils of climate change are hitting conflict-ridden South Sudan particularly hard.
“Floods caused by climate change now affect an estimated one million people in South Sudan each year, worsening an already precarious situation for one of Africa’s most fragile and conflict-affected countries. In other parts of the country, many more people have been pushed into food insecurity as droughts have killed livestock and disrupted crop cycles. To escape both flooding and drought, pastoralists have moved their animals far beyond traditional transhumance routes, bringing them into fierce conflict with sedentary communities, including South Sudanese who have recently returned from ‘exile,’ UNHCR reported in July.
The worst is expected in the region.
The IGAD regional report on food crises predicted in July that more than 50 million people are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity this year in seven IGAD countries – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia , South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
Image: A food distribution in the Afar region of Ethiopia in August. Photo: WFP/Claire Nevill