Millions need urgent aid amidst drought, conflict and food crisis in the Horn of Africa 

Millions need urgent aid amidst drought, conflict and food crisis in the Horn of Africa

More than 10 million people across the Horn of Africa are in dire need of humanitarian assistance due to a deadly combination of drought, escalating food prices and armed conflict. Among the most vulnerable from this drought are 2 million children under the age of five in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

VIDEO: UNICEF’s Regional Emergency Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa, Robert McCarthy, dicsusses the food crisis arising from severe drought and armed conflict in the Horn of Africa. Report  by Kun Li. NAIROBI, Kenya, 5 July 2011

“This region has seen many crises, but the current one may be the worst in decades,” said UNICEF’s Regional Emergency Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa, Robert McCarthy.

“Any short-term improvement is very unlikely,” he added. “The next harvest in the worst-hit areas is expected to be poor, and there are no signs of an end to the Somali conflict. At the same time, high food prices are heaping daily pressure on everyone, especially the poorest. As usual, children – especially Somali children – silently suffer and pay the highest price.”

A Somali refugee girl
A Somali refugee girl carries her sibling at the Dagahaley refugee camp, one of three camps in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, as drought and conflict force Somalis to flee their country. UNICEF Image © REUTERS/Elkington

Massive refugee movement

Due to the drought and on-going civil conflict in Somalia, massive numbers of refugees have moved from that country into Kenya and Ethiopia in recent months.

More than 10,000 Somalis arrive at the Dadaab camps in eastern Kenya every week, after having trekked for days through the desiccated land. Their heath conditions are precarious, and malnutrition rates among children are alarmingly high.

Conditions inside the camps are worrisome, as the host government and aid partners such as the UN refugee agency struggle to meet the basic needs of 360,000 residents in facilities built for 90,000.

In Ethiopia, meanwhile, more than 80,000 Somalis have sought refuge in the eastern part of the country; almost half of them are recent arrivals.

Malnutrition among children

After two consecutive poor rainy seasons during the past year, many pastoral zones in the Horn of Africa are experiencing one of the driest spells in more than 60 years. The impact of the drought has been compounded by sharply rising food prices, loss of livestock, conflict and restricted humanitarian access in some areas.

damaged cathedral in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu
A displaced Somali child sits in front of a war-damaged cathedral in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, as recurrent humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa leave aid agencies short of funds to carry out their work. UNICEF Image © REUTERS/Omar

In Baidoa, Somalia, for example, the price of red sorghum has increased by 240 per cent. The price of maize has increased by 117 per cent in parts of Ethiopia and by 58 per cent in some areas in Kenya.

The lack of food for general distribution is a major threat to child survival in southern Somalia – and one of the main reasons why so many families are leaving for Kenya and Ethiopia. Among Somali children in the refugee camps, particularly the new arrivals, an acute malnutrition rate of 40 per cent has been reported in some instances.

Funding shortfall

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Horn of Africa is now facing the world’s most severe food crisis. Around 3.5 million people in Kenya, 2.85 million in Somalia, and 3.2 million in Ethiopia are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. An additional 117,000 people have found themselves in the same situation in Djibouti, and 600,000 people in northern Uganda are affected.

Amidst this crisis, the response by UNICEF its partners has been seriously hampered by a lack of adequate funding. A total of $10 million will be required in the next month to sustain UNICEF’s live-saving interventions in Somalia alone, while Kenya and Ethiopia each are in need of $3 million to $4 million.

“Droughts are predictable, as are, to some extent, price fluctuations,” said Mr. McCarthy. “The UN is seeking to support governments in leading and coordinating the humanitarian response. While we concentrate our efforts on the immediate human consequences right now, we must equally commit to viable, longer term and pro-child approaches in these areas.

We must ensure that this kind of crisis never happens again.”

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