U.N. agencies warn that severe hunger is sliding toward famine-like conditions in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, as four years of consecutive drought have wiped out peoples’ ability to grow the crops they need to feed themselves.
The World Food Program reports up to 22 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are facing severe hunger. It says hunger and the death of millions of livestock have forced more than 7 million people to leave their homes in search of food, water and grazing pasture for their cattle.
The WFP warns these figures are likely to grow, and conditions will continue to deteriorate, as poor rainfall is forecast for the fifth year in a row.
The WFP regional director for East Africa, Michael Dunford, recently returned from a visit to Somalia and northern Kenya.
Speaking from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Dunford says he was particularly struck by the dire situation in Somalia where more than 7 million people are facing a humanitarian crisis. He says this is the worst situation he has seen in the 21 years he has been working for WFP.
“We have a real risk of famine. It has not been declared yet, but already there are over 200,000 people in famine-like conditions, catastrophic levels of food insecurity, with another 1.4 [million] on the edge. So, unless we are able to continue to advocate to raise funding, to scale up our operations, then we will have, I fear, a famine to deal with,” he said.
Dunford says the specter of the 2011 famine in Somalia, which killed 250,000 people, half of them children, looms large over this current crisis. He says WFP is scaling up to reach 8.5 million people across Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. He says $416 million is needed to provide lifesaving aid for the rest of the year.
Malnutrition remains high across the Horn of Africa. The U.N. children’s fund reports 10 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished. It adds that nearly 1.8 million face severe wasting, a condition that is life-threatening.
UNICEF spokesman James Elder says millions of children in the Horn of Africa are literally one disease away from catastrophe.
“When you have got these terrifyingly high levels of severe acute malnutrition in children — and that is 1.8 million of those children in that state right now in the Horn, 1.8 million when you have got those — and then you combine it with a simple outbreak in [a] disease like a cholera, like diarrhea, then you see child mortality rates rise at a petrifying speed,” he said.
Elder notes the number of people without access to safe water in the region has risen from nine million in February to 15 million now.
UNICEF has revised its emergency appeal from $119 million to nearly $250 million. This reflects the growing needs across the region.