The Horn of Africa has Endured Five Consecutive Below-Average Rainy Seasons, With Catastrophic Consequences
Communities in the Horn of Africa are suffering the impacts of five consecutive poor rainy seasons, coming on top of conflict and insecurity, high food prices and other drivers of needs. The October-December 2020, March-May 2021, October- December 2021, March-May 2022 and October-December 2022 seasons were all marred by below-average rainfall, with the March-May 2022 rainy season the driest on record in the last 70 years. This drought surpassed the horrific droughts in 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 in both duration and severity, leaving large swathes of Somalia, southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya facing the most prolonged drought on record in the Horn of Africa. While improved rains are starting to ease the impacts of the drought, the devastation wrought by the 2020-2023 drought crisis in the region will be acutely felt for years to come. And with more flooding expected later this year – including due to the forecasted El Niño – immediate action is urgently required to prevent and mitigate the worst impacts.
The Drought Is Ravaging Affected Communities
Across the Horn of Africa, at least 31.9 million people are in urgent need of life-saving and life-sustaining assistance due to the most prolonged and severe drought in recent history, including 17.2 million in Ethiopia, 8.25 million in Somalia, and 6.4 million in Kenya. This includes over 7.8 million women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years) who face dangers to their health and aggravated risks of gender-based violence due to the drought, according to UNFPA. While recent rains are starting to ease the impacts of the drought, they have also resulted in flooding across parts of the region, causing widespread damage and affecting at least 900,000 people, with more flooding expected later this year, including due to the forecasted El Niño.
Over 23.5 million people are enduring high levels of acute food insecurity due to drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Famine has been averted in Somalia, but needs remain urgent, with approximately 6.6 million people projected to experience high levels of acute food insecurity through June 2023, according to the IPC analysis. About 11 million people
in Ethiopia are severely food insecure due to the drought, according to the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan. In Kenya, meanwhile, food insecurity has escalated precipitously, with more than 5.4 million people in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) region now facing acute food insecurity, according to the latest IPC analysis. This is the highest number recorded in Kenya since acute food insecurity began being tracked in 2008.
Over 13.2 million livestock—which pastoralist families rely upon for sustenance and livelihoods—have already died across the region, including over 6.8 million in Ethiopia, 2.6 million in Kenya and over 3.8 million in Somalia, and many more are at risk.This translates to the loss of more than 180 million litres of milk since the drought began, leaving over 1.4 million children under age 5 across the region without a daily glass of milk, according to FAO, with severe consequences for their nutrition. In Kenya alone, the Government estimates the economic cost of livestock loss at more than $1.5 billion. Experience shows that it takes at least five years for a pastoralist family to rebuild their herd after a drought. However, with many families having lost all of their livestock during this drought, and droughts becoming more frequent and intense in the Horn of Africa, some may be forced to leave pastoralism. Recent IOM assessments in Garissa, Turkana, Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu counties in Kenya identified 205,196 households who have lost their livestock because of the drought, lack of water, animal disease, conflicts/insecurity or whose land has become unproductive and have therefore become destitute.
“I am not able to feed my children because of drought and we don’t have any money. We used to keep animals, but we have lost all of them. My child has been sick for one month. When I saw the child was getting worse, I decided to take her to the nearest health facility where I can get medication” Hodan told Save the Children in Ethiopia.
Across the Horn of Africa, the drought has driven alarming levels of malnutrition for children and women, threatening their lives and their futures. More than 4.3 million children are expected to be acutely malnourished in the three countries in 2023, of whom nearly 1.5 million are in Ethiopia, over 970,200 in Kenya and 1.8 million in Somalia. This includes about 1.2 million children who are severely acutely malnourished, including nearly 528,000 in Ethiopia, over 242,500 in Kenya and nearly 478,000 in Somalia. In addition, over 743,000 pregnant and lactating women are projected to be acutely malnourished in 2023, including 348,000 in Ethiopia, 142,200 in Kenya and 252,800 in Somalia. In drought-affected areas, many women have sacrificed their own well-being and nutrition to care for their families, often eating less, and eating last, according to PLAN. Admissions for severe acute malnutrition remain very high—with a 30 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2023 over the same period in 2022—and additional challenges accessing clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and a heightened risk of water-borne diseases, including cholera, due to floods are likely to exacerbate acute malnutrition.
Prior to the current rainy season, almost 25 million people could not access enough water for drinking, cooking and cleaning or basic sanitation and hygiene across the Horn of Africa, including 10.1 million in Ethiopia, 8 million in Somalia and 6.8 million in Kenya, according to WASH partners, including UNICEF. Despite the improved rains, hydrological drought persists across the region and rains will need to be well distributed and sustained over several rainy seasons to adequately replenish groundwater sources. In the ASAL region of Kenya, most rivers are not perennial, and intense episodes of short rain make the surface water not suitable for drinking. At the same time, while increased rains are bringing some relief to affected communities, flooding creates new risks and challenges regarding access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as a heightened risk of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, at a time when cholera outbreaks in the three countries continue to expand.
“After walking for over 350 kilometres with a caravan of about 25 people, including women, children and older people, we have arrived alive and with enough energy to live another day. But there are many we have buried in our villages because of this unending drought,” said 55-year-old Ali Abdullahi to WHO in a camp for internally displaced persons in Banadir Region, Somalia.
The drought has had devastating consequences for the health of affected communities. All three countries that have been hardest hit by the drought are responding to cholera outbreaks, with over 40,700 cholera cases recorded since the beginning of 2022, including nearly 23,100 in Somalia alone, as well as measles outbreaks, with over 38,600 cases reported across the three countries. Malnutrition and disease have
a synergistic relationship, with malnutrition, increasing the likelihood of falling sick—especially for children and pregnant and lactating women—while sick people become more easily malnourished, according to WHO. Measles can pose a deadly risk to malnourished children. In a context of high food prices, families may be forced to choose between food and health care, increasing the risk of people discontinuing treatment, including for HIV. At the same time, displacement can heighten the risk of exposure to disease, due to compromised living conditions, while also increasing the potential spread of disease, including across borders.
Families have taken desperate measures to survive, with more than 2.7 million people leaving their homes due to drought 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, more than 1.7 million people in Somalia have been internally displaced due to drought: some have migrated to nearby towns, joining existing camps for internally displaced people, and many have traversed dangerous distances controlled by armed groups and contaminated with explosives in search of work or humanitarian assistance. More than 178,400 people from Somalia have sought asylum in Ethiopia (96,592) and Kenya (81,860), including due to the drought, since January 2022, according to UNHCR. In Ethiopia, over 516,200 people were internally displaced between January and December 2022 due to the worsening drought, according to IOM/DTM. In the ASAL region of Kenya, people have arrived into urban and peri-urban areas—including the sides of major roads—in search of new livelihoods and assistance. In Kenya, over 508,100 people in five assessed counties have left their settlements in search of goods and services to cope with the drought, according to IOM/DTM.
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