Vast expanses of the lands stretching from southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia are in the catch of a severe drought that has left 13 millions people facing hunger.
In these regions, where people eke out living from essentially agro-pastoral activities, the three rainy seasons since the end of 2020 was marked by low rainfall, exacerbated by a locust invasion that devastated crops between 2019 and 2021.
“The population of the horn does up only 4% of the global populationbut this represents 20% of the population food insecure”, Michael Dunford, Regional Manager of the World Food Program (WFP) director for East Africa, said earlier this month.
According to the UN agency, 5.7 millions people need food aid in southern and southeastern Ethiopia, including half a million malnourished children and mothers.
In eastern and northern Kenya, where the president has declared a state of national disaster in September because of drought, 2.8 millions what’s more people need assistance.
In Somalia, the number of people rated as very hungry might rise 4.3 millions at 4.6 millions by May if urgent action is not taken. The authorities there declared a “state of humanitarian emergency” in November.
“Malnutrition has reached crisis levels,” said Victor Chinyama, a spokesman for UNICEF in Somalia. “It’s time to act.”
“If you wait for things to get worse or for famine to be declared, it may be too late,” he warned.
In 2017, early humanitarian action prevented a famine in the troubled country. Corn in 2011, 260,000 people – half of their children under age of six – deceased of hungerin part because the international community did not act fast enough, according to the UN
Currently, the annual UN appeal for $1.46 billion (€1.23 billion) for Somalia scratched in just 2.3% of target.
Beyond the direct and potentially deadly consequences on the people affected, the shortage of water and pasture are a source of conflict, especially between herders.
Drought also menace the animal world. Livestock – an essential source of subsistence in the region – are dying en masse.
In Kenya alone, up to 1.4 million head of cattle have died in the final three months of 2021, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“We are most definitely sitting now on the edge of disaster,” said Rein Paulsen, director of the bureau from FAO of Emergencies and resilience. “We have a window in the middle of the yearto June, which is a narrow window very sensitive to the time factor for large-scale urgent actions up to avoid the worst-case scenario.
The fauna is also at risk. In Kenya, there have been many cases of wild animals such as giraffes or antelopes perish for lack of water and food, their carcasses rot on arid scrubland.
In the event of a drought, wild animals will leave their usual habitat in the hunt for water or food, often moving away closer to developed areas. In central Kenya, big the cats attacked the herds of livestock, while elephants or buffaloes graze in agricultural land, angering locals.