Drought in Horn of Africa threatens lives of 20 million people

The lack of rainfall is killing crops and livestock, directly affecting food shortages in the region

AFP/EDUARDO SOTERAS  -   Millions of people in Somalia are at risk of famine, with young children the most vulnerable to worsening drought in this troubled Horn of Africa nation

The Horn of Africa is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades. From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya, the region is suffering from a drought that is wiping out crops and livestock, threatening millions of lives.

Humanitarian organisations report that 20 million people are at risk of starvation as a result of water shortages. Many families have been forced to leave their homes behind due to the lack of crops and water, which has led to several confrontations between different tribes and communities. 

AFP/ YASUYOSHI CHIBA - In this file photo taken on 13 February 2022, Hawa Mohamed Isack (R), 60, drinks water at a water distribution point in Muuri camp.

The situation does not look very hopeful. This is evidenced by weather forecasts that indicate a marked absence of rain in the coming days. In these countries, where the population is almost totally dependent on livestock and agriculture, the last three winters have seen very little rainfall, coinciding, moreover, with the invasion of locusts between 2019 and 2021, which wiped out the area's crops.

In April, the World Food Programme reported that one month into the rainy season there was a likelihood that "the number of hungry people due to drought will increase from the current estimate of 14 million people to 20 million by 2022".

In Somalia, nearly six million people, corresponding to 40% of the population, are facing significant "acute food insecurity" scenarios, the same context that some 3.5 million people are now experiencing in Kenya. 

AFP/ YASUYOSHI CHIBA - Somalia faces famine conditions as a perfect storm of poor rains, soaring food prices and huge funding shortfalls leaves nearly 40 per cent of Somalis on the brink.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this situation has caused "close to one million people to be displaced from their homes in the region due to lack of water and pasture". They also stress that "at least three million head of livestock have died".

According to representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), it is necessary "to act now if we want to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe". This dire situation has been further aggravated by the Ukrainian conflict. In this vein, the UN has stated that the Russian invasion has contributed to "rising food and oil prices" as well as "the disruption of supply chains".

AFP/AFP - Maps showing food insecurity in the Horn of Africa in 2011 and 2022, according to USAid

The executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Catherine Russell, has denounced that ten million children in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are in need of "basic assistance". In a statement issued after a visit to Ethiopia, the organisation has indicated that the lack of clean water "increases the risk of disease in children" while hundreds of thousands of children have had to leave school to go in search of water and food to other villages in the area. 

In 2017, a major food programme approved by different organisations averted a famine in Somalia after 26,000 people died in 2011 alone, half of them children under six years of age, as a result of disease and malnutrition due to lack of water. 

AFP/EDUARDO SOTERAS - People stand next to the carcasses of dead sheep in the village of Hargududo, 80 kilometres from the town of Gode, Ethiopia, 7 April 2022.

On the other hand, this drought is not only affecting people. In Kenya, wild animals are under serious threat. There have been reports of significant deaths of multiple animals, reportedly including giraffes and antelopes. The animals are also reportedly leaving their natural habitats in search of food and water.

In the face of this dire situation, demands for aid from the countries that make up the Horn of Africa have increased. The World Food Programme has launched an urgent appeal to raise $327 million in aid to meet the so-called "urgent needs" of 4.5 million people over the next six months. This money would also be used to help communities become more resilient to climate impacts.

PHOTO/DANIEL JUKES/ACTIONAID via AP - An empty water tank in Beerato, Somaliland, Somalia's semi-autonomous region, on 14 March 2022.

In this regard, Somalia remains one of the countries most vulnerable to climatic adversities. In this region, famine has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced 1.5 million Somalis. In addition, 800,000 people have been forced to migrate to neighbouring countries, which are also threatened by drought.

The country, which is home to some 15 million people, suffers from almost permanent droughts and, in the rainy season, floods. This situation affects the livelihoods of the population. The African Development Bank believes that the current famine in the Horn of Africa is partly due to "the collective failure to end the war in Somalia".

They stressed that, in addition to the shortage of rainfall, the crisis in Somalia "is due to our collective failure to end the civil war in Somalia".