The World Health Organization has warned that millions of people in East Africa face the threat of starvation. Speaking at a media briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that drought, climate change, rising prices and an ongoing civil war in northern Ethiopia are all contributing to worsening food insecurity.
A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in East Africa, which is in the grip of its worst drought in at least four decades. More than 80 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti are food insecure, and almost half of them are having to sell their possessions in order to eat, according to the World Health Organization.
With forecasters seeing a high risk of rains failing for a fifth consecutive season and aid flows falling short of what is needed, the region is at risk of a famine that is even worse than the one that Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s and claimed an estimated 1 million lives.
“The world needs to act now to protect the most vulnerable communities from the threat of widespread famine in the Horn of Africa,” the WFP executive director, David Beasley, said on Friday.
“There is still no end in sight to this drought crisis, so we must get the resources needed to save lives and stop people plunging into catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation.”
At the start of 2022, WFP warned that 13 million people across the three countries faced starvation and appealed for donors to open their purses at a time of great need.
But funds were slow in coming, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine among other crises drawing attention from the disaster in the Horn, humanitarian workers said. Russia’s invasion also sent global food and fuel prices soaring, making aid delivery more expensive.
There are a number of contributing factors that have led to the situation in East Africa to worsen. Climate change, conflict and infestations have decimated what little hope people had of surviving this devasting ordeal.
Climate change has resulted in extreme weather patterns, and nations across Africa have increasingly been contending with drought and flash floods. “Climate change and La Niña have caused an unprecedented multi-season drought, punctuated by one of the worst March-to-May rainy seasons in 70 years,” the U.N. News Service reported last month.
The drought has had a devastating effect on crop yields and on livestock populations. In Somalia, vegetable and grain production is expected to drop by about 80% this year. An infestation of locusts, which thrive in hot and dry conditions, have wiped out crops across large parts of eastern Africa
Somalia and Ethiopia have also been contending with internal conflict that is disrupted farming and made it dangerous to distribute aid.
In Somalia, militant group al-Shabaab has been trying to topple the government since 2006 and impose its version of Islamic law.
In Ethiopia, the government and rebels from the northern Tigray region fought a civil war that dragged on for more than 16 months before a truce was agreed in March.
WFP said $418m was needed over the next six months to help the worst-off. Last month, the United States announced $1.2bn in emergency food and malnutrition treatment to help avert famine in the Horn of Africa and urged other nations to do more.
The European Union, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and the UK were also leading contributors. Kenya’s government has introduced corn and fuel subsidies but says it cannot afford to maintain them indefinitely.