The Horn of Africa is Facing its Worst Drought in More than Four Decades
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 early 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 19.4 million people have been affected by the drought which began in October 2020. At least 18.6 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 20 million by September. In Somalia, 7.1 million people are now acutely food insecure—including 213,000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)—and 8 areas of the country are at risk of famine between now and September 2022, with Bay region of particular concern. About 7.4 million people in Ethiopia and some 4.1 million people in Kenya are severely food insecure due to the drought.
At least 7 million livestock—which pastoralist families rely upon for sustenance and livelihoods—have died across the region, including more than 1.5 million in Kenya, between 2.1 million and 2.5 million in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, and 3 million in Somalia. Consequently, children have less access to milk, negatively affecting their nutrition. Across the three countries, malnutrition rates are rising: more than 7.1 million children are acutely malnourished, including about 2 million who are severely acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF.
Food prices are spiking in many drought-affected areas, due to a combination of macro-economic challenges, below-average harvests and rising prices on international markets, including as a result of the war in Ukraine. In some parts of Somalia, prices of basic food items, such as red sorghum, have exceeded the levels seen during the 2011 famine. In pastoral areas of Somali region in Ethiopia, three goats are currently needed to purchase 100 kilogrammes of teff, compared to only one goat before the drought. The cost of a food basket has already risen by 66 per cent in Ethiopia and by 36 per cent in Somalia, 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 life-saving 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 11.6 million people cannot access enough water for drinking, cooking and cleaning across the Horn of Africa, including 4.4 million in Ethiopia, 3.9 million in Somalia, and 3.3 million in Kenya. 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 from June to 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
**Families are taking desperate measures to survive, with more than 1.1 million people leaving their homes in search of food, pasture, water and alternative livelihoods, increasing the risk of inter-communal conflict, as well as heightening pressure on already limited basic services.**Since January 2021, over 805,100 people in Somalia have been displaced: some have migrated to near-by towns, joining existing camps for internally displaced people, while others have crossed borders seeking support or traversed dangerous distances controlled by armed groups and contaminated with explosives in search of work or humanitarian assistance. Over 15,000 people crossed from Somalia into Dollo Ado, Ethiopia from the end of 2021 to May 2022. In southern Ethiopia, some 334,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the worsening drought, and in the ASAL region of Kenya, pastoralists are trekking long distances to find water and pasture for livestock, leading to resource-based and inter-communal tensions and conflict and exposing women, children and the elderly who are left behind to heightened protection risks and shortages of essential items, including food. People who were already internally displaced before the drought, and living without the support of their traditional family network or other social safety nets, have been forced to further relocate in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock, thereby becoming more vulnerable and more exposed to protection risks.
The drought is having devastating consequences for women and children, heightening the risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse, and hampering children’s access to education. Risks of gender-based violence— including sexual violence, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence and female genital mutilation—are increasing during this crisis, while services to respond remain limited. Female headed-households and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to increased violence, exploitation and abuse. In Somalia, more younger girls are facing violence compared to previous periods, according to data from IRC’s project sites in Galmudug, Puntland and Benadir regions. In some communities, child marriage has reportedly risen, with families marrying-off young girls in order to lessen demands on their own resources and potentially get money that they can use for food and other necessities. In some communities, families have stopped sending girls to school, prioritizing boys as they cannot afford the school fees. In Somalia, the drought emergency has disrupted education for 1.7 million children, of whom 720,000—47 per cent of them girls—are at risk of dropping out of school. In Ethiopia, more than 2,100 schools are closed, affecting more than 682,000 students due to migration, school closure or sickness.
Older people—especially in pastoralist communities—are also facing unique consequences due to the drought. Their role in caring for children has increased, as younger adults have traveled further afield in search of forage and food or migrated to urban areas in search of work. Some 88 per cent of older people caring for at least one child, with the average caring for more than five children. Many older people are skipping meals--with over half currently eating only one meal per day and 82 per cent going to bed hungry at least one night per week—and only 1 in 2 older people have access to safe drinking water, according to a recent assessment by HelpAge.
While resilience-building efforts across the region have made important progress, the frequency and severity of droughts in recent years, combined with the exceptionally prolonged nature of the 2020-2022 drought, have made it harder and harder for families to recover between shocks. In the past 10 years alone, the Horn of Africa has endured three severe droughts (2010-2011, 2016-2017 and 2020-2022).The 2010-2011 drought, combined with conflict and complex humanitarian access issues, caused famine in Somalia. The 2016-2017 drought brought millions of people in the region to the brink of famine, which was only prevented through rapid and timely humanitarian response. The increasing frequency of shocks in the region has meant that the vulnerable have little space to recover and bounce back, leading to an increase in the number of internally displaced people.
At the same time, many drought-affected communities are struggling to cope with the cumulative consequences of other shocks, including conflict, flooding, COVID-19 and desert locusts. Previously, many of these communities were hit by the extreme rains and flooding which struck the region in 2019, and which was one of the drivers of the historical desert locust outbreak which began in late-2019. The Horn of Africa has also been negatively impacted by the deteriorating macroeconomic conditions and trade disruptions related to the war in Ukraine, at a time when households are still facing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods and income sources. In addition, millions of people in Ethiopia and Somalia are affected by conflicts, which may also hinder people’s freedom of movement as they seek reprieve from the drought.