Horn of Africa ravaged by worst drought in four decades

In the Horn of Africa as a whole, in an area stretching from northern Kenya to Somalia and swaths of Ethiopia, up to 20 million people could go hungry this year as delayed rains exacerbate what was already the worst drought in four decades. After three consecutive rainy seasons failed and a fourth looks likely to do the same, crops have disappeared and more than a million livestock have died in Ethiopia’s south-eastern Somali region alone.

As temperatures rise globally, food security in the arid and semi-arid parts of the Horn are becoming evermore precarious, experts say. Although droughts are not new, they are becoming more frequent and severe. Since 2008, the area has registered a drought almost every year. In 2011, a famine in Somalia is thought to have killed a quarter of a million people.

Temperatures in parts of the Horn of Africa have scaled record highs. Over the past four decades, rainfall averages have continued to decline, with shorter and shorter rainy seasons. Now the situation is so severe that local elders in villages in Ethiopia’s Somali region recount stories of half-starved hyenas, monkeys and warthogs attacking under nourished children for food. “We had to move the children to the city to protect them,” said Mohamed Dagane Digabe, a clan elder in the village of Gabia, almost 30km from Gode.

“It is regional so options for migrating to neighbouring areas are not there,” Mustafa Mohamed Omar, president of Ethiopia’s Somali region, told the Financial Times. “Somalia is affected, Kenya is affected, parts of Oromia in Ethiopia are affected. We are sure such a drought is unseen in almost 50 years; people are even saying 100 years.”

The WFP is warning of outright famine in Somalia, where some 6 million people, or 40% of the population, are facing acute food insecurity in a country where jihadi violence is rife. Some analysts say more people are fleeing hunger in the country than violence.

In Ethiopia, which is reeling from a brutal civil war in the northernmost region of Tigray — a conflict that had already left 9 million people food insecure there and in nearby regions Amhara and Afar — an additional 7 million people now wake up hungry every day in the south and south-east regions, mainly Somali, according to the WFP.

Even in relatively prosperous and stable Kenya, the number of people in need of assistance has risen more than fourfold in less than two years, with drought leaving over 3 million acutely food insecure.

Aid agencies are running low on crucial wheat stocks from Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s top producers. In Ethiopia, the WFP and the government procure about three-quarters of the wheat they distribute from those two countries. Wheat prices from the Black Sea have jumped 67% since last year, mainly due to Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.