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Drought in the Horn of Africa

Drought in the Horn of Africa

The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa is widespread, triggering a regional humanitarian crisis with food insecurity skyrocketing, particularly among livestock-owning communities, and devastating livelihoods.

Areas of particular concern include southern and southeastern Ethiopia, northern and coastal Kenya, and almost all of Somalia, for which a pre-famine alert was issued by FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit in January 2017. The Governments of Kenya and Somalia have both declared the drought a national disaster. Northeastern parts of Uganda and southeastern areas of South Sudan have also been affected.

Food security conditions in drought-hit areas are alarming – families are reporting that they are eating less, less often and what they do eat is less nutritionally diverse. The number of people facing severe food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) has more than doubled in the last six months in Kenya to 2.7 million and in Somalia to 2.9 million people. In Ethiopia, 5.6 million are food insecure – even after last year’s El Niño-induced drought, the number of food insecure districts has increased by one quarter since July 2016, almost entirely in newly affected areas. Just under 1.6 million people are food insecure in Uganda, mostly in drought-hit areas.

Following erratic and below-average long rains in March-May 2016, the October to December short rains were extremely poor in much of the region – in some areas, low rainfall represented the third or fourth consecutive poor season. The failed short rains thus extended the already long dry season, with severe implications for food security, nutrition, livelihoods and peace. Correlations with the Horn of Africa drought that preceded the 2011 famine cannot be ignored.

Water is scarce and rangelands bare – in January, a FAO/IGAD assessment found that 80 percent of livestock in cross-border areas were migrating in search of food and water. Tens of thousands of livestock have already died or become sick and many more are at risk. Livestock prices have halved in many areas, and in others markets are collapsing. Milk production has halted in worst-affected communities and with low supplies, the prices of protein-rich dairy products are high. Livestock-dependent households have  extremely limited options to generate income, and are being forced to sell their remaining productive assets at very low prices just to survive. Recovery becomes more distant with each animal lost.

Access to food is low and declining across the region. Harvests have been poor over consecutive seasons and food availability is plummeting; the prices for staple foods are soaring. Crop production failed entirely in some areas. For affected farmers, the failed season means no food, no income for food, and no seed to plant in the next season. Those depending on farm labour to survive, are also left empty handed.

Famine starts and must be prevented in rural areas. Almost 90 percent of those in IPC Phase 4 in Somalia are in rural areas. Assisting people in rural areas to maintain their livelihoods will enable households to defend themselves against the worst ravages of drought, and recovery will be both faster and cheaper.

FAO began to scale up its efforts to mitigate the impact of the drought in late 2016; however, much more resources are now needed to protect the livelihoods and therefore lives of those most at risk. Averting a famine in Somalia will be critical. To protect lives and livelihoods in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda (including actions at subregional level), FAO is seeking over USD 284 million in 2017. In addition, to address needs and challenges facing communities in cross-border areas, FAO has developed a specific response plan that builds on national response plans, and includes a regional component.

FAO aims to:

  • support livestock health and production (feed, vaccination/treatment, water trucking)
  • rapidly improve food access (unconditional cash transfers, cash-for-work, cash +, slaughter destocking of weak animals);
  • prepare farmers to take advantage of what rains do fall in the coming season (crop, legume and vegetable seeds, tools, fertilizers);
  • continue food security monitoring and analysis to inform decision-making and response; and
  • monitor livestock movements, livestock body conditions, tracking livestock health and rangeland conditions, promoting peace through dialogues on grazing access and regional-level coordination and technical support activities.

FAO is already providing supplementary feed, conducting livestock destocking, preparing livestock treatment campaigns, and supporting national and regional coordination efforts to enhance food security.

Droughts in the Horn of Africa have been increasing in severity and frequency, aggravated by climate chenge, desertification, and land degradation. With multiple, consecutive years of poor rains, dry spells and drought, including the El Niño-induced drought in 2015/16, there has been little to no recovery among affected households. Immediate and massive efforts are critical to save lives and livelihoods and prevent the loss of development gains made in the region in recent years.

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