East Africa is preparing for famine and an unprecedented drought as everyone looks to Ukraine

Hundreds of millions are at risk of starvation, while belated rains are exacerbating the drought crisis in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

The war in Ukraine has not only overshadowed a problem that has deepened in recent years but has exacerbated it.

The UN World Food Program warns of a humanitarian catastrophe that will ruin crops and kill animals in many parts of the Horn of Africa, whose inhabitants will have to flee in search of food and water. For the time being, however, the international community does not have the necessary means to do the least it can to help them.

In southern Ethiopia, 7.2 million are waking up hungry.

As a rule, the wet season in this part of the world should have started, but it is a month late. This makes the situation particularly critical in Somalia, where 6 million people – almost 30% of the population – are at risk.

In Kenya, people in a life-threatening famine phase have reached half a million people, especially many livestock farmers in the north recently. However, the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity has quadrupled in less than two years to a total of 3.1 million.

Southern Ethiopia has been hit hard by the drought, a country where the 17-month war between the government and Tiger fighters has already caused a severe crisis in the north. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the proportion of malnourished people is growing. Three million farm animals have died in southern Ethiopia and parts of Kenya since mid-2021 and in Somalia 30 percent of Somali households.

According to the World Food Program, 7.2 million people are currently waking up hungry every day in the south of the country. This is the worst drought in Ethiopia since 1981.

This year is different

The region knows the drought. In 2017, there was one in East Africa, but because of the lessons of the past and the successful mobilization of humanitarian organizations, Somalia avoided another famine. There were no tragedies like the one in 2011 when 260,000 people died of starvation or related complications, half of them children under the age of six.

However, the conflict in Ukraine this year complicated the equation that was supposed to help the region. Prices have risen and global supply chains have been disrupted. Ethiopia and Somalia rely heavily on imports of wheat from the Black Sea, and supply disruptions have made the consumer basket more expensive. Another key commodity for food security is problematic – fertilizers, also supplied by the Black Sea region.

Conflicts in the Horn of Africa itself – tensions and the war in Ethiopia, jihadists in Somalia and Kenya, clashes between farmers and ranchers in other parts of the continent, along with locusts, pose risks.

When Europe will notice Africa?

Climate change is also a factor.

Although dry periods are common in East Africa, the current La Niña drought follows a year and a half of rainfall below normal. It is probably the longest in the modern history of the region.

Clashes between different groups in local communities are usually about resources; reducing them due to drought will only increase tensions.

In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes in its latest report that “key development sectors are already experiencing serious losses and damage that may be linked to anthropogenic climate change, including biodiversity loss, water scarcity, loss of life, and reduced economic development. ”

According to the World Food Program, $ 473 million is needed to tackle the crisis over the next six months. These sums remain virtually uncollected: in February, only 4% of its then lower amount was collected. According to humanitarian organizations, the real needs in the Horn of Africa are ten times greater: 4.4 billion dollars.

Many of these people could become climate refugees: the World Migration Organization expects the situation to endanger at least 15 million people. For many of them, the solution may be the only thing that usually catches Europe’s attention: mass migration. However, even in this case, the crisis may go unnoticed (for now): traditionally, refugees from one African country are more likely to go to another instead of the Old Continent.

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