Severe hunger slides towards famine in the Horn of Africa
UN agencies are warning that severe hunger is sliding towards famine-like conditions in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, as four consecutive years of drought have wiped out people’s ability to grow the crops they need. they need for food.
The World Food Program reports that up to 22 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are facing severe starvation. It says starvation and the death of millions of livestock have forced more than 7 million people to leave their homes in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.
The WFP warns that these numbers are likely to rise and conditions will continue to deteriorate as low rainfall is forecast for the fifth consecutive year.
WFP’s Regional Director for East Africa, Michael Dunford, recently returned from a visit to Somalia and northern Kenya.
Speaking from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Dunford said he was particularly struck by the dire situation in Somalia where more than 7 million people are facing a humanitarian crisis. He says it is the worst situation he has seen in his 21 years working for the WFP.
“We have a real risk of starvation. It has yet to be declared, but there are already more than 200,000 people in near-famine conditions, catastrophic levels of food insecurity, with another 1.4 [million] on the edge. So unless we are able to continue advocating to raise funds, to scale up our operations, we will, I fear, have a famine to deal with,” he said.
Dunford says the specter of the 2011 famine in Somalia, which killed 250,000 people, half of them children, hangs over this current crisis. He says WFP is expanding to reach 8.5 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. He says $416 million is needed to provide vital aid for the rest of the year.
Malnutrition remains high in the Horn of Africa. The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that 10 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. He adds that nearly 1.8 million people face severe wasting, a life-threatening condition.
UNICEF spokesman James Elder said millions of children in the Horn of Africa are literally one disease away from disaster.
“When you have these terrifying levels of severe acute malnutrition in children – and it’s 1.8 million of these children in this state right now in the Horn, 1.8 million when you have it – and then you combine it with a simple epidemic in [a] a disease like cholera, like diarrhoea, then you see infant mortality rates rising at a petrifying rate,” he said.
Elder notes that the number of people without access to clean water in the region has risen from nine million in February to 15 million now.
UNICEF has revised its emergency appeal from $119 million to nearly $250 million. This reflects the growing needs in the region.