Addis Ababa, 12 February 2022 (TDI): The Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent memory, with 12–14 million people suffering from severe food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

Families are taking desperate measures to survive, with thousands of people leaving their homes in search of food, water, and pasture.

The time is now for action to assist people and communities affected by the drought to survive the period ahead, as well as support them to return to self-reliance and build resilience against future shocks.

After three consecutive rainy seasons of poor rain, the Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the most severe droughts in recent history, prompting the governments of Kenya (September 2021) and Somalia (November 2021) to declare national emergencies.

October-December 2020, March-May 2021, and October-December 2021 were all marked by below-average rainfall, resulting in extensive drought in Somalia, southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya.

Over 90% of Somalia’s districts, 66 out of 74, have been affected by drought, and between early October and late November 2021, rainfall in parts of the country was between 55 and 70 % below the country’s 40-year average.

Around 12 to 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia face acute food insecurity and severe water shortages due to drought in the first quarter of 2022. In these three countries in 2022, over 5.5 million children will be acutely malnourished, including more than 1.6 million severely malnourished.

Migratory livestock herds have reduced milk availability, affecting nutrition, especially for children under five. Pastoralist families depend on livestock for sustenance and livelihoods, yet many harvests have failed.

In Kenya and Somalia, cereal harvests are expected to be 60 to 70% below average in January and February 2022. More than 1.4 million animals have died, according to the National Drought Management Agency of Kenya.

In Ethiopia’s Oromia region, an FAO rapid assessment in November 2021 found that approximately 68,000 animals had died and over 1 million were in poor condition in just two zones (Borena and Dawa).

Drought-affected areas are experiencing higher food prices due to macro-economic challenges, below-average harvests, and rising prices in international markets, leaving families unable to offer basic foods. To obtain food and other necessities, families have been forced to sell their hard-earned properties.

Water shortages are affecting millions in the Horn of Africa. As a result of rationing water and prioritizing drinking and cooking over hygiene, a considerable number of water points are dried up or degraded in quality, heightening the risk of water-borne diseases and skin and eye infections.

The distances women and girls have to walk to access water may expose them to gender-based violence. Lack of water could equally affect infection prevention and control in health facilities and schools, resulting in poor treatment outcomes for children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable groups.

Family members are adopting desperate measures to survive, leaving their homes in search of food, water, and pasture, increasing the risk of inter-communal conflict and adding pressure to already limited basic services.

Horn of Africa Drought
Horn of Africa Drought

Across Kenya and Somalia, pastoralists are trekking long distances in search of water and pasture for their livestock, resulting in resource-based conflict and leaving women, children, and the elderly vulnerable to heightened safety risks and food shortages.

According to IFPRI, livestock prices also fuel conflict, and recent clashes between nomadic pastoralists in drought-affected areas illustrate the vicious cycle of escalating violence and food insecurity.

In search of work or humanitarian aid, people migrate to nearby towns, join camps for internally displaced people, or travel dangerous distances controlled by armed groups and contaminated with explosives.

The UNHCR estimates that 169,000 Somalis were displaced in 2021 in search of water, food, and pasture, while over half a million were forcibly displaced by the conflict. People have begun migrating to areas with better food and water access, both in southern Ethiopia and the ASAL region of Kenya.

As a result of the drought crisis, women and children are at risk of gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation, and abuse. It has been reported that child marriage has increased, with families marrying off young girls to save resources and possibly get money for food and other necessities.

Families have stopped sending girls to school in some communities, prioritizing boys due to school fees. GBV risks, including sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse, as well as intimate partner violence, are at an all-time high during this crisis, and services to respond remain limited.

Those internally displaced have been particularly hard-hit by the drought, which has compounded previous shocks they have endured and undermined their self-sufficiency.

These displaced people, who live without the support of their traditional family network, have been forced to relocate in search of food, water, and pasture for their livestock, making them more vulnerable and more at risk.

Horn of Africa Drought
Horn of Africa Drought

Even as resilience-building efforts across the region have made significant progress, communities have been hit by increasingly frequent and severe droughts, making it harder and harder for families to recover. Three severe droughts have hit the Horn of Africa in the past ten years (2010–2011, 2016–2017, and 2020–2021).

The famine in Somalia was caused by the 2010–2011 drought, conflict, and complex humanitarian access issues. A drought brought millions to the brink of famine, which was only prevented by a prompt and timely humanitarian response. As the frequency of shocks in the region has increased, the vulnerable occupy little room to recover, resulting in an increase in internally displaced persons.

Simultaneously, many drought-affected communities are coping with the cumulative effects of conflict, flooding, COVID-19, and desert locusts. The extreme rains and flooding that struck many of these communities in 2019 were one of the drivers of the historical desert locust outbreak in late 2019.

The Horn of Africa has also been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, millions of people in Ethiopia and Somalia have been affected by conflict, which may also hinder their freedom of movement as they seek relief from the drought.

Horn of Africa Drought
Horn of Africa Drought

The drought is enhancing one of the most adverse climate-induced emergencies in the Horn of Africa. Most of the regions in the region suffer from a high level of uncertainty and mixed signals during the March-May rainy season.

Recent analog forecasts based on the analysis of Pacific March-May sea surface temperatures, past droughts, and a number of past La Nina years suggest a below-average season in 2022.

In this case, it would result in an unprecedented (in the past 40 years) sequence of four below-normal rainfall seasons, resulting in a major increase in food insecurity.

Communities reliant on agriculture will experience peaks in needs between April and June, while pastoralists’ needs will rise rapidly between February and March.

There is a need to take action as soon as possible. In addition to livelihoods, resilience, social protection, and system-strengthening interventions, the delivery of life-saving and life-sustaining assistance has significantly increased in recent months.

However, more needs to be done to prevent large-scale loss of life in the Horn of Africa over the next few years. At the same time, communities need help to return to self-reliance and build resilience against future shocks.

In 2022, humanitarian partners are appealing for more than $4.4 billion to provide life-saving assistance and protection to about 29.1 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Donors are urgently needed to fund these appeals so they can immediately respond to the life-threatening needs in the Horn of Africa.

Donors should prioritize funding local, community-based, and women’s-led organizations, like refugee-led organizations, that carry out incredible work in their communities every day.

Likewise, the emergency declarations made by the governments of Kenya and Somalia are welcomed and governments in the region are encouraged to prioritize the drought emergency by allocating the necessary funds to provide timely and comprehensive help to the affected communities.