Communities in the Horn of Africa are facing the threat of starvation following four consecutive failed rainy seasons in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years. The October-December 2020, March-May 2021, October-December 2021 and March-May 2022 seasons were all marred by below-average rainfall, leaving large swathes of Somalia, southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya facing the most prolonged drought in recent history.
The March-May 2022 rainy season was the driest on record in the last 70 years—making the 2020-2022 surpass the horrific droughts in both 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 in duration and severity—and forecasts indicate that the October-December 2022 rainy season is also likely to fail.
An Unprecedented Emergency is Ravaging Drought-Affected Communities
Across the Horn of Africa, at least 36.1 million people have now been affected by the drought which began in October 2020, including 24.1 million in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia and 4.2 million in Kenya. This represents a significant increase from July 2022 (when an estimated 19.4 million people were affected), reflecting the impact of the drought in additional geographic areas of Ethiopia, as well as the rising needs in Somalia.
At least 20.5 million people are already waking each day to high levels of acute food insecurity and rising malnutrition across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, and this figure could increase to between 23 and 26 million by September 2022, according to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG). In Somalia, 7.1 million people are now acutely food insecure—including over 213,000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)—and eight areas of the country are at risk of famine between now and September 2022, with Bay and Bakool regions of particular concern. About 9.9 million people in Ethiopia and some 3.5 million people in Kenya are severely food insecure due to the drought.
Over 8.9 million livestock—which pastoralist families rely upon for sustenance and livelihoods—have died across the region, including 3.5 million in Ethiopia, 2.4 million in Kenya and over 3 million in Somalia, according to the latest FSNWG Drought Special Report. Consequently, children have less access to milk, negatively affecting their nutrition. Across the three countries, malnutrition rates are alarming: about 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished, including about 1.3 million who are severely acutely malnourished. In Ethiopia, nearly 2.2 million children under age 5 are acutely malnourished, including nearly 705,000 who are severely malnourished. In Kenya, about 942,500 children aged 6-59 months are affected by acute malnutrition and need treatment, including 229,000 severely malnourished, and in Somalia, an estimated 1.5 million children under age 5 face acute malnutrition, including 386,400 who are likely to be severely malnourished, according to IPC.
Food prices are spiking in many drought-affected areas, due to a combination of macro-economic challenges, below-average harvests and rising prices for food and fuel on international markets, including as a result of the war in Ukraine. In Somalia, staple food prices in drought-hit areas have surpassed the levels recorded during the 2017 drought and the 2011 famine, according to WFP’s price monitoring. In Ethiopia, the cost of the local food basket increased by more than 33 per cent between January and June 2022, according to WFP. Soaring prices are leaving families unable to afford even basic items and forcing them to sell their hard-earned properties and assets in exchange for food and other lifesaving items. There are also repercussions for food for refugee programmes, which are already impacted by reduced rations due to lack of funding support.
More than 16.2 million people cannot access enough water for drinking, cooking and cleaning across the Horn of Africa, including 8.2 million in Ethiopia, 3.9 million in Somalia and 4.1 million in Kenya, according to UNICEF. Many water points have dried up or diminished in quality, heightening the risk of water-borne diseases and increasing the risk of skin and eye infections as families are forced to ration their water use and prioritize drinking and cooking over hygiene.
Existing water deficits have been exacerbated by very high temperatures, which are forecast to continue until at least September 2022. In some of the worst affected areas in Somalia, water prices have spiked by up to 72 per cent since November 2021. Women and girls are having to walk longer distances to access water—in many instances up to double or triple the distances they would have to walk during a regular dry season—exacerbating their potential exposure to gender-based violence and dehydration. Water shortages are also impacting infection prevention and control in health facilities and schools. In Ethiopia and Kenya, there are already reports of an increase in pregnant women being exposed to infections—the worst of which have resulted in death—following deliveries both at home and at health facilities due to the limited availability of water.
An Unprecedented Emergency Is Ravaging Drought-Affected Communities “My livestock perished from lack of water and pasture, and could not survive the harsh drought anymore. It is painful”‚Ä®Zeinaba, speaking with a UN team in Ethiopia.