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Regional call to action - Horn of Africa drought crisis: climate change is here now, July 2022

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Key messages

UNICEF is appealing for US$ 986 million to provide urgent life-saving and climate resilience support to 4.2 million people, half of them children, in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Right now, 2 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

This is a humanitarian catastrophe. Children in the Horn of Africa (HoA) are experiencing the impacts of one of the worst climate-induced emergencies of the past 40 years, with the lowest levels of funding on record not allowing the humanitarian community to respond as needed. Urgent aid is needed to prevent parts of the region sliding into famine.

War in Ukraine is having dire and deadly implications for child malnutrition in the Horn of Africa (HoA), with supply lines and food production disrupted, exacerbating already soaring global food prices. This comes as the price of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic food – critical treatment for children with severe acute malnutrition - is set to increase by 17 per cent.

  • Since our last Call to Action was released in February 2022, there has been a 38 per cent increase in families in need. In addition, household water insecurity has increased by 88 per cent and the cost of water and food has risen significantly. Cases of diseases like cholera, measles, and diarrhea are increasing too.

  • Over 20 million people and at least 10 million children are currently facing severe drought conditions due to the failure of four and possibly five consecutive dry seasons, with the 2022 March-May rainy season likely to be the driest on record, killing livestock and crops, displacing populations, increasing the risk of disease and malnutrition, and pushing children and families to the brink of death / destitution.

  • Weather forecasts already suggest temperatures will climb higher than usual in the coming weeks. In addition, early forecasts suggest an increased probability of further below-average rainy season between October and December 2022.

The crisis in the HoA is depriving children and adolescents from having a home, a meal, a classroom, and access to water and life-saving health and protection services.

  • Communities are taking extreme measures to survive, with thousands of children and families leaving their homes in pure desperation in search of water, food, pasture, and treatment sick for children requiring a collective response by all humanitarian partners.

  • This is a water crisis with more than 8.5 million people, including 4.2 million children, are facing dire water shortages across the region.

  • The nutrition situation in the region is becoming catastrophic as malnutrition rates are increasing, particularly in Ethiopia, and in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya and Somalia with more than 1.8 million children expected to be wasted in 2022.

  • Drought-induced population movement is further deepening the displacement crisis in the region with more than 7.5 million people displaced due to drought and other factors such as insecurity.

  • Children are at particular risk. Drought is affecting school attendance for learners in the affected areas as families are forced to move in search of water and livelihoods. Overall, 15 million children are now out of school in the HoA and an additionally estimated 3.3 million children are at risk of dropping out due to drought.

  • Drought further exacerbates child protection risks, and many families are forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms for survival, such as child marriage, particularly threatening adolescent girls. Drought also pushes more families to leave their communities in the hope of a better future, thus leading to risks of family separation and child labour.

  • Risks of gender-based violence (GBV) including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are becoming even more acute due to drought, widespread food insecurity and displacement. Female-headed households, adolescent girls, older women and those with disabilities are facing heightened threats.

  • Drought conditions increase the risk of disease outbreaks including water-borne diseases among the affected population.

UNICEF and partners are on the ground in the five affected countries and working to support children with life-saving services and resilience response.

  • Over the past three months, UNICEF has provided essential life- saving health, nutrition, immunization, WASH, education, child protection and GBV services and cash transfers to 1.7 million people and 1.2 million children through life-saving interventions.2 UNICEF is the leading UN agency to provide:
    • Access to clean water and reliable sanitation, and for promoting basic hygiene practices in rural and urban areas, including in emergency situations.
    • Nutrition response across the HoA countries, supporting a harmonized multi-agency response, including for the life-saving treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

  • UNICEF is uniquely positioned to address the water crisis through both immediate interventions such as borehole repair and cleaning, and at the same time accelerate the drilling of deep ground water boreholes, to make communities more resilient and prevent further deterioration of the current drought and future droughts, given the climate change patterns that are predicted for this region. We are also making smart investments in the longer-term resilience of communities and their children, through strengthening nutrition and health systems as well as government-led social protection systems.

  • UNICEF is also frontloading its internal core resources in the drought response in the five countries on a noregrets basis to scale up the response including new loan and grant financing as well as repurposed regular resources for procurement of life-saving supplies such as Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), and supporting enhanced community outreach, as well as make strategic, early investments in long-term resilience, particularly supporting communities with climate-resilient water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and nutrition interventions.

Early Action

The evidence in support of acting early in the face of drought is overwhelming. Children’s lives are saved, the devastating and permanent damage of malnutrition on children’s brains and bodies is prevented and in turn the destruction to countries’ workforces and economies.

But early action also enables donors to spend less in the long run and families themselves to avoid catastrophic losses. The World Bank found that a response that is even just one month quicker, results in a 0.8 per cent boost in income per capita in the long run. In addition, research commissioned by the Start Network found at least half of all humanitarian crises are foreseeable and more than 20 per cent are highly predictable. However, less than one per cent of humanitarian funding goes to anticipatory action.