After four consecutive seasons of failed rains, Africa's easternmost region is in the throes of severe drought and facing mass starvation
Long regarded as one of the world's most volatile regions, the Horn of Africa has been hit by a devastating drought. The worst in four decades, it has already affected millions and is likely to impact many more in the months to come.
What countries are currently being affected by the Horn of Africa drought?
The Horn of Africa region is the easternmost extension of African land and includes four nations: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Two of those countries – Ethiopia and Somalia – are currently being devastated by the worst drought in decades, while northern Kenya is also feeling the effects of this crisis.
The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that over 20 million people in these countries are facing acute food insecurity and could "go hungry" this year. So far, 5.7 million children are acutely malnourished, and this number is expected to rise to nearly 7 million, according to a recent UNICEF report.
"Time is fast running out," wrote WFP in a recent report, adding that Somalia is facing "the very real risk of famine" in the coming six months. "Meanwhile, an estimated 7.2 million Ethiopians are already not getting enough to eat, and half a million Kenyans are just a step away from catastrophic levels of hunger and malnutrition," it added.
What is the cause of the current drought in the Horn of Africa?
The immediate causes are meteorological. The rains have been below average or failed altogether for four consecutive seasons. Unprecedented in the last 40 years, the lack of adequate rainfall has not only led to a reduction in crop and livestock production but has also caused water sources to dry up. In some areas, the situation is further exacerbated by conflict. Somalia, for instance, has been in a state of war for decades now. This has led to the displacement of people and loss of livelihoods.
But there are also underlying causes. The populations of Ethiopia and Somalia have nearly tripled since 1970, while rainfall has remained constant. Deforestation is another issue – trees play an essential role in storing water and help to regulate local climates. From a starting point of about 40% forest cover in the 16th century, Ethiopia has reduced to 4.6% as a result of 0.8% annual deforestation. "Pressure on forests comes from a rapidly growing population – 85 million – with over 80% living in rural areas, relying on rain-fed agriculture. The 70 million livestock put pressure on land and forests," according to the Guardian.
Why is the Horn of Africa drought a global issue?
The Horn of Africa region is vital to the global economy. Ethiopia and Somalia are major suppliers of coffee and tea. Kenya is a major producer of flowers. The region is also home to one of the world's largest livestock populations. The drought in the Horn of Africa is a global issue because it has the potential to disrupt the supply of these products and cause a rise in prices. With terror groups like al-Shabaab operating in the region, the drought also has the potential to lead to increased instability.
"There is one overriding truth about the Horn of Africa," writes Alexander Rondos, the European Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, in an article for the Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD). "It straddles a geographical space of such strategic importance that those who treat it with indifference will one day pay a price for their neglect.”
With droughts occurring with increasing frequency on the Horn of Africa, experts are tying the current one to climate change. "This is not the Horn's first drought, nor is it likely to be its last," said Sean Granville-Ross, the regional director for Africa for the aid agency Mercy Corps told NBC News. "As the climate emergency worsens, droughts will become more frequent and severe. People affected by climate change cannot wait for one crisis to end before preparing for the next."
What can be done to help those affected by the Horn of Africa drought?
In April, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) hosted a fundraising roundtable in Geneva to drum up support for the Horn of Africa, leading to nearly $1.4 billion in pledges from. "With the funds pledged today, humanitarian agencies will provide urgent food, nutrition, cash and health assistance, as well as fodder and medicines to keep livestock alive," said OCHA in a statement.
But money is only part of the solution. Experts say the international community also needs to address the underlying causes of the drought. This means investment in infrastructure, such as irrigation systems, and support for programmes that promote sustainable land management. It also means tackling climate change.
Furthermore, the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the crisis has been exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict as global fuel and food prices have risen due to the western sanctions imposed on Russia. Those in east Africa currently struggling to feed themselves can only hope for a swift resolution to the blockades of Ukrainian wheat and grain.
Written By: Olivium staff.