Large parts of the country, stretching from southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia, are in the grip of a severe drought that has left 13 million people hungry.
Everywhere in these regions, where people support themselves mainly on agro-pastoral activities, the three rainy periods since the end of 2020 have been characterized by low rainfall, exacerbated by a grasshopper invasion that devastated the harvests between 2019 and 2021.
“Hornet’s population makes up only 4% of the global population, but it represents 20% of the food insecurity population,” said Michael Dunford, World Food Program (WFP) regional director for East Africa, earlier this month.
According to the UN agency, 5.7 million 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 declared a state of national disaster in September due to the drought, another 2.8 million people need help.
In Somalia, the number of people classified as severely hungry could rise from 4.3 million to 4.6 million in May unless urgent action is taken. Authorities there declared a “humanitarian state of emergency” in November.
“Malnutrition has reached crisis levels,” said Victor Chinyama, a spokesman for UNICEF in Somalia. “It’s time to act now.”
“If you wait until it gets worse or until famine is declared, it may be too late,” he warned.
In 2017, early humanitarian action prevented a famine in the troubled country. But in 2011, 260,000 people – half of them children under the age of six – died of starvation, partly because the international community did not act quickly enough, according to the UN
At present, the UN’s annual appeal of $ 1.46 billion (€ 1.23 billion) for Somalia has scraped in just 2.3% of the target.
In addition to the direct and potentially fatal consequences for the affected people, the lack of water and pasture is a source of conflict, especially among shepherds.
The drought is also threatening the animal world. Cattle – an important source of livelihood in the region – are dying in droves.
In Kenya alone, as many as 1.4 million cattle died in the last three months of 2021, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
“We are definitely on the brink of disaster now,” said Rein Paulsen, head of the FAO’s Office of Emergency Situations and Resilience. “We have a window until the middle of the year, until June, which is a very time-sensitive, narrow window for urgent action to scale up to prevent a worst-case scenario.”
Wild animals are also in danger. In Kenya, there have been many cases of wild animals such as giraffes or antelopes that have died of lack of water and food, with their carcasses rotting on barren bushes.
During droughts, wild animals will leave their habitats in search of water or food, often straying to more developed areas. In central Kenya, big cats have attacked livestock, while elephants or buffaloes have grazed on farmland, making residents angry.
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