The United Nations (UN) has warned that the number of people pushed into hunger because of drought in the Horn of Africa could rise from 14 million to 20 million by 2022 as delayed rains worsen extreme drought.
Countries in the Horn of Africa are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.
UN World Food Programme (WFP) stated on Tuesday in New York that one month into this year’s rainy season in those countries, the rains had not fallen.
“If the rains don’t fall, this will be the fourth consecutive failed season as the region reels from food and fuel price increases to unprecedented levels because of the war in Ukraine,’’ it stated.
Drought in the Horn of Africa of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are on the verge of leading the region into a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Horn of Africa endured drought in 2016 to 2017, but humanitarian assistance was scaled up early, thus saving lives and averting a devastating famine.
“We know from past experience that acting early to avert a humanitarian catastrophe is vital, yet our ability to launch the response has been limited because of lack of funding to date.
“WFP and other humanitarian agencies have been warning the international community since 2021 that this drought could be disastrous if the international community did not act immediately.
“The drought could be disastrous if we don’t act immediately, but funding has failed to materialise at the scale required,’’ Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, stated.
According to WFP, time is fast running out for families who are struggling to survive in Somalia, where there is the risk of famine.
The UN food agency stated that half a million Kenyans are one step away from catastrophic levels of hunger, and malnutrition rates in Ethiopia are well above emergency thresholds.
Dr Chimimba Phiri, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Sub-regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa, said the impact of the drought had been felt in households that cultivate crops or rear animals.
Phiri said some three million livestock had died across southern Ethiopia and arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, while in Somalia up to 30 per cent of households’ herds had died since mid-2021.
“Furthermore, beyond the drought, many of the areas that we are concerned about have been plagued with conflict and insecurity, as well as macroeconomic challenges and rising food prices and recently also by Desert Locust.
“We must act now on a no-regret basis if we want to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, and we must significantly scale up our investments in resilient food systems,’’ Phiri said.
WFP last appealed for desperately needed funding in February, but received less than four per cent of what was needed.
Some 473 million dollars is required over the next six months.
FAO launched a130-million-dollar drought response plan in January to assist 1.5 million people. Only 50 million dollars has been received to date.