At least 40 million people in East Africa face an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis, according to a latest report by an independent humanitarian organization.
In the report, Refugees International attributes the current crisis to five failed or below-average rainy seasons and a looming sixth in 2023. The situation has been aggravated by other factors such as climate change, armed conflicts (both localised and the war in Ukraine), global economic contractures as well as the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.
The report’s projections show that about 7.46 million children under the age of five are will face acute malnutrition, including 1.85 million facing severe malnutrition.
“Thousands of people, especially children, will die in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya in the next few months. Not because there was no adequate and repeated warning of the impending drought, and not because humanitarian agencies do not know how to program in those countries. They did so in 2017–2018. It will be because of inaction and a lack of political will to fund the Horn of Africa humanitarian plan,” the organization warned in the report
“Many of the countries in the region are net food importers, and the Ukraine crisis has led to an increase in the price of food.” The report notes amid concern that “poor funding” is hampering efforts by humanitarian groups to address the crisis.
“The current crisis echoes the devastating 2011-2012 famine in Somalia when over a quarter million people died, half of whom were children under the age of five. By the time famine was declared, half of the people experiencing famine had died.” The report added
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been the principal donor for the Horn of Africa humanitarian response. For instance, in 2022, the agency’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) provided $1 billion.
Later in September, USAID is reported to have provided more than $151 million in new assistance to the people of Somalia. $146.5 million was to be set aside for food assistance, as drought threatened to push more than 7 million people to the edge of starvation.
According to the report, the United States is providing over 70 percent of the United Nation’s Children Fund’s (UNICEF) regional humanitarian response funding while the European Union’s contribution stands at a $112 Million for regional drought response.
Refugee International regrets that the funding deficit for the Horn of Africa points to a broader inequality in global aid distribution saying stating that it sharply contrasts with the financing the Ukraine appeal receives.
The report established that funding for the drought response initiatives currently stands at 72 percent for Somalia and 55 percent for Kenya, and 52 percent for Ethiopia of the respective 2022 annual requirements for each country.
In the report, Refugee International says investments should be made in social safety programs and resilience across the Horn of Africa. The organization says the said programs can complement humanitarian aid by helping to prevent acute food insecurity and by creating pathways out of the crisis.
The agency further wants the United States of America Treasury and State Department to consider relaxing its sanctions regime targeting humanitarian agencies delivering aid in the Al Shabaab-controlled area in Somalia.
It says humanitarian agencies acting in good faith ought to be exempted from prosecutions for food, medicine, and other essential supplies, including cash, that unintentionally ends up in the hands of Al-Shabaab.
Besides this, RI urges the African Union, the United States, the European Union, and the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on those violating the terms of Ethiopia’s Ceasefire Agreement, including those denying humanitarian access and starving civilians in violation of Ethiopian and international humanitarian laws.
Over and above this, the governments of Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia have also been advised to urgently convene a regional summit on food and nutrition insecurity in the region, in order to increase the profile of the situation and bring much-needed attention, pledges of support, and political focus to the issue.