Horn of Africa Facing Drought, Famine

The Horn of Africa received only one-quarter of the expected rainfall from October through December, leading to widespread drought and potential famine conditions. An emergency alert from FEWS Net issued on January 25 states that emergency food assistance needs in the region are “unprecedented”, particularly in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, where the threat of famine is particularly strong.  Northeastern and coastal Kenya, southeastern Ethiopia, and parts of Uganda's Karamoja region are also facing acute food shortages and malnutrition.

According to FAO, almost 12 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are in need of immediate, large-scale food assistance; in Somalia, a pre-famine alert has been issued. In Nigeria, famine may already have occurred in 2016 and may be continued in some areas throughout 2017.

Prolonged drought, driven largely by the 2015-2016 El Niño cycle, have led to failed harvests, deteriorating water and pasture supplies, disease outbreaks, and widespread livestock deaths. As a result, households throughout the region are faced with rising debt, falling income, low cereal and seed stocks, and limited milk and meat production. In addition, in many areas, conflict remains a challenge, limiting trade and disrupting livelihoods.

While Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen face the credible risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) conditions in the coming year, several other countries in Africa south of the Sahara face Emergency (IPC Phase 4)-level food insecurity. These countries include Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Madagascar. Emergency-level food insecurity conditions are characterized by large food gaps, increased acute malnutrition, and excess child mortality.

At the 28th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa last week, FAO Deputy Director-General of Climate and Natural Resources Maria Helena Semedo addressed a high-level panel on the region’s ongoing humanitarian situation. Semedo called for a scaling up of action from national, regional, and international stakeholders.

By: Sara Gustafson

Photo credit:Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)