East Africa Facing Food Security Crisis

The Horn of Africa will continue to face a significant food security crisis into early 2018, according to a new alert released by FEWS Net. Poor rains in March-June – the second consecutive below-average season – have exacerbated already reduced livestock and agricultural conditions in many areas of the region. In some areas, particularly Ethiopia and Somalia, rainfall totals from June 2016 to May 2017 were the lowest or second-lowest seen in over three decades. An additional alert from FAO/GIEWS reports similar conditions in northern Tanzania and northeastern and southwestern Uganda.

According to FEWS Net, cumulative rainfall totals from March-June 2017 were less than 70 percent of average across central Somalia, southeastern and southern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya; in some areas of Somalia and Ethiopia, rainfall totals were less than 50 percent of average. This has placed extraordinary stress on pastoralists and farmers across the region. FEWS Net reports that excessive livestock deaths and sales have been widespread, with some pastoral households losing up to 60 percent of their livestock since mid-2016.

Harvests are also suffering from the drought conditions. FEWS Net reports that in Somalia, January harvests were extraordinarily low – less than 25 percent of average. In addition, upcoming July harvests in parts of that country are anticipated to be less than 50 percent of average. Portions of Ethiopia are facing similarly reduced harvests; GIEWS reports that between 25 and 85 percent of cropland in Ethiopia's southern regions is currently affected by the drought.

These impacts of agriculture and livestock production will have serious effects on households’ food access and availability in the coming months, reports FEWS Net. Many agropastoral and pastoral households will likely exhaust their remaining food stocks, and high staple food prices combined with low herd sizes and low milk production will limit these households’ access to food. FEWs Net reports that acute malnutrition is already at critical levels or higher across much of the Horn of Africa. Much of southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia will continue to see Emergency (IPC Phase 4)-level food insecurity into early 2018, while the rest of the region will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3)-level food insecurity during that period. A worst-case scenario could see famine-level food insecurity in Somalia. 

As a result, urgent and improved humanitarian aid is required in the region, particularly in Somalia and southeastern Ethiopia, to mitigate loss of life due to rising food insecurity, as well as to address recent outbreaks of cholera, measles, and other serious diseases in the region. In early July, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) approved USD 1 million for emergency humanitarian assistance to help drought-stricken households in Kenya, after that country declared a national disaster in February 2017. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has also stepped up calls for assistance to the region, while the European Union has pledged an additional €60 million in aid to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia to deal with the crisis. 

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:UNICEF Ethiopia