In the East Africa region, also known as the Horn of Africa, we are faced with the harrowing reality that Concern’s vision of a world where no one lives in extreme poverty is very distant from the one we live in now. With millions on the brink of starvation, and the attention of the world straying elsewhere, we face the grim reality that the region faces the very real threat of famine looming over their head in 2023. As international funding is diverted elsewhere -- and grain, oil, and fertilizer exports become political pawns -- these fragile communities stand to be forgotten.
The humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa is dire, and the number of people in need of assistance continues to climb, Concern’s Regional Director Amina Abdulla has warned. Without a major international response in early 2023, it will become a crisis beyond the capacity of humanitarian organizations to contain.
Her stark warning follows an assessment by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which noted that the worst drought in 40 years had surpassed the horrific droughts of 2011 and 2017 in both duration and severity. OCHA warned the drought would continue to deepen in the coming months “with catastrophic consequences.”
“Additional funding is desperately needed to help us meet the rapidly growing humanitarian needs now and in the coming months,” Ms. Abdulla said. “Our teams are on the ground in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya responding, but the resources we currently have are not sufficient to meet the growing numbers of people in need.”
Concern teams are providing a range of supports for communities, including cash payments, water trucking, constructing latrines in displacement camps and repairing non-functioning boreholes. They are operating outreach clinics and distributing hygiene materials such as jerry cans and soap.
The drought is the result of five failed rainy seasons, which have left millions of people in Somalia, south-eastern Ethiopia and Northern and Southern rangelands of Kenya facing food and nutrition insecurity. Across the Horn of Africa, at least 36.4 million people are affected including 24.1 million in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia and 4.5 million in Kenya.
OCHA warned that 300,000 people in south central Somalia are facing famine-like conditions. Even if no famine emerges in Somalia the UN warned that, given the large number of people affected and the likely duration of the crisis, excess mortality during this drought could be as high as in 2011, when 260,000 people died.
Children are bearing the brunt of the suffering, with small children going days without food. About 5.1 million children are acutely malnourished in drought-affected areas and of these, 1.4 million children are at risk of dying as a result of hunger. Concern is treating tens of thousands of children and adults suffering from malnutrition, and providing emergency cash transfers to affected communities so that families can afford nutritious foods and other essential items.
“We focus on building people’s ability to cope with emergencies, but this situation is now beyond that,” says Ethiopia Country Director Barbara White. “With rains expected to be below average in the coming season, it is a race against time to save people by providing basic food, water, and medical care.”
Concern’s teams in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are working to meet the growing needs of drought-stricken communities. As the drought intensifies, more people are migrating to urban areas in search of water and food. According to the Camp Coordination & Camp Management Cluster, 4,373 people have arrived in camps in Baidoa, Somalia, between November 20 and December 1 of 2022. An estimated 400,000 displaced people have moved there in 2022 alone, outnumbering the 300,000 people of the host community.
“Arriving families are seeking refuge in ad hoc displacement camps,” Ms. Abdulla said. “Half of these camps are not receiving any assistance.”
Water shortages also continue to be a growing problem. In Baidoa, of the 100 boreholes which previously provided water in the region, just five are still functioning. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, as well as TB and measles are spreading through the community. Our response has included repairing broken bore holes and shallow wells, as well as providing emergency water trucking to areas most in need to improve access to adequate and safe water.
Many of those hit hardest by the drought are pastoralists who have lost many or all of their livestock. Their animals are often the only source of food and income for pastoralist families, creating a devastating impact on their livelihoods.
An estimated 9.5 million animals have died across the Horn of Africa during the current drought. “The numbers of camels dying from malnutrition-related illnesses is higher than ever before,” Concern’s Program Director in Kenya, Hassan Olow, said. “Camels and donkeys are also dying from digestion problems caused by eating invasive thorny desert plants which have survived the drought.” Our teams have responded by vaccinating livestock against diseases, in attempt to keep them alive through the drought.
“There is widespread acute malnutrition and this will continue increasing as we approach January to March 2023– the driest months of the year,” Ms. Abdulla said. “With seven million people in Somalia in need of humanitarian assistance, most of the funds donated by the donors in 2022 will be spent by the end of the year. We need to escalate our response. The next four months will be critical in terms of saving lives and averting famine in Somalia.”
We’ve entered a dangerous waiting game where the future of the region, and nearly 40 million people's lives remain at stake. There is a lot going on in the news agenda, and not everything will get the screen time and column inches it deserves. But there is a crisis in the Horn of Africa that desperately requires and deserves our attention and action.
East Africa (”Horn of Africa”) Famine Crisis
Across East Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Eritrea, also known as the “Horn of Africa”) nearly 40 million people – nearly one-third of the region’s total population -- have been adversely affected by the current severe drought, which is in its 4th consecutive season, the worst in over 40 years. This severe drought has led to widespread livestock deaths, acute food insecurity and a very real risk of impending widespread famine. It is estimated that a person is dying of hunger every 48 seconds across Ethiopia, Kenya and particularly Somalia.
Somalia in particular is experiencing some of the worst ravages of this climate-change caused disaster. Somalia has two rainy seasons: the Gu and the Deyr. The Gu rains last from April to June, while the Deyr are October to December. The Gu rainy season this year was catastrophically dry, and forecasts indicate a similar failure in the upcoming Deyr season this fall -- as well as warmer-than-average surface temperatures causing further impacts.
Compounding this severe drought situation is the ongoing protracted conflict in the region, lingering supply chain issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of the desert locust upsurge last year, global inflation, and the impact of the war in Ukraine on grain and oil imports. The price of staple items such as cooking oil, sugar and rice has increased over 100% since the beginning of 2022. Over 3 million livestock are estimated to have perished since mid-2021 due to starvation and disease, with 22 million more at risk in the coming months.
In a country where pastoralism and agro-pastoralism are the dominant livelihood strategies, the drought has had devastating impacts on rural households’ ability to grow crops and raise livestock. This has left hundreds of thousands of families with little choice but to leave their homes and travel to urban centers for jobs and access to basic services. The latest figures released from the UN indicate that over 1.1 million Somalis have been displaced from their homes since January 2021, primarily driven by the extreme impacts of drought. Internally displaced people (IDPs) are concentrated in Bay (Baidoa) and Banadir (Mogadishu) regions, and it is anticipated that the increase in influx of IDPs to these areas will continue at a rate of 30-40,000 per month through the end of 2022.
The impact of drought, displacement and increasing economic pressures are deepening the severity of needs and driving the country to the brink of famine and catastrophe. Over 7.1 million people are acutely food insecure, with confirmed pockets of catastrophic food insecurity across 17 districts affecting hundreds of thousands of people (see map). The Somalia Food Security and Nutrition analysis report, released this month, shows concrete indications that famine will occur in two areas in the Bay region (Baidoa and Burhakaba districts) in South-Central Somalia between October and December of this year.
As a result, food insecurity and acute malnutrition are drastically on the rise. Approximately 1.5 million children under 5 are acutely malnourished, with 385,000 at risk of dying before the end of the year without immediate intervention. Nearly 4 million people cannot access enough water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Hunger, access to clean, safe water, and adequate nutrition are inextricably linked; a lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation is resulting in increased incidence of waterborne diseases like cholera and acute watery diarrhea (AWD), which can cause/intensify malnutrition and further endanger the lives of vulnerable Somalis, especially children under 5 and those who are already experiencing severe food insecurity and high rates of acute malnutrition.
To ease suffering and stave off famine for tens of thousands, Concern is currently:
Concern is well-placed to deliver these critical interventions. Indeed, we have long been a recognized leader and innovator in the humanitarian aid sphere. Fifty-four years ago, Concern was founded to address famine in Africa. Twenty-plus years ago, we helped pioneer a breakthrough in nutrition delivery that ushered in a steady decline in global starvation rates for the first time in history. Now, with this progress is in danger of being reversed due to the effects of climate change, conflict and Covid, we must step up our efforts, requiring more resources than ever – and thus we must look to past, current and potential partners to help us prepare and respond to once again save lives.
Concern puts a strong focus on coordination with other humanitarian actors, and we are a member of the Food Security, WASH, Health, and Nutrition Clusters, Somalia NGO Consortium, Cash Working Group (CWG), and other Clusters at national and sub-national levels. In ongoing drought response and famine prevention, Concern works closely with UN OCHA; Concern and its local partners are actively participating in districts across the country, including the proposed targeted area. Concern also leverages its strong working relationships and reputation to work closely with other aid agencies to ensure no duplication with other NGOs working in the target location on similar programming and provides regular information to ensure coordination. Concern maintains good working relationship with relevant state and federal line ministries, especially the Ministry of Health as a key partner in Banadir.
The following report has been adapted from an account written by Concern Worldwide’s Emma Kelly in May 2022.
The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing its most severe drought in 40 years. A staggering 15 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia - most of whom are already living in extreme poverty - are acutely food insecure. This is when a person's inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.
It is expected that this year, 5.5 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia will be acutely malnourished, with more than 1.6 million of them expected to be severely acutely malnourished, and famine is a very real possibility in Somalia. The staggering truth lies in these facts:
Most people in the Horn of Africa are farmers, and are reliant on the land and their livestock to survive. So when drought strikes, there is an immediate impact on their ability to work and feed their families.
For example, in Kenya, a drought emergency has been declared with between 80% and 90% of reservoirs and dams drying up in Turkana, its largest county in the northwest of the country and one of the hottest and driest counties in Kenya. Here, lakeside communities can no longer survive on fishing, while pastoralists are losing their livestock. More than 1.4 million animals are believed to have died in Kenya alone as a result of the ongoing drought.
The Horn of Africa’s dependence on agriculture would make severe drought difficult enough to weather, but a number of factors have exacerbated the situation. Climate change has not caused the drought, but has made it worse and prolonged the conditions. This is despite the region being one of the least responsible for climate change, being responsible for just 0.1% of global carbon emissions.
And while it may be happening thousands of miles away, the conflict in Ukraine is having a disastrous impact on East Africa by creating a perfect storm for food insecurity. Ukraine and the Russian Federation provide around 30% of the world’s wheat and barley. Thirty-six countries import more than 50% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, including Somalia, and this has led to food prices rocketing in these countries in particular, as well as Sudan and South Sudan. Ethiopia’s cost of a food basket has risen by 66%, with Somalia’s rising by 36% between February 2021 and February 2022.
Concern is responding to this crisis supporting health clinics to deliver nutrition assistance and providing emergency cash transfers to affected communities. This allows beneficiaries to afford nutritious food to feed their families. Our teams are also repairing broken boreholes and shallow wells and vaccinating livestock against diseases in an attempt to keep them alive during the drought.
We are continuing our work to improve access to adequate and safe water, largely through ground water abstraction infrastructure and enhanced adoption of sustainable water resources management practices in both developmental and humanitarian emergency contexts.
However, the crisis in the Horn of Africa will require a $4.5 billion (€4.2bn) commitment globally for an effective humanitarian response in the region.
Amina Abdulla, Concern Worldwide’s regional director for Horn of Africa, explains: “Shockingly, we are fast heading to where we were in 2011. Many of us will remember the scale of the drought in East Africa back then, the number of lives lost, and the length of time it took the humanitarian community to launch an appropriate response and help support communities to the point where they could recover.
“For families struggling to feed their children today in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, there is not a moment to lose. The response is already six months too slow. We must act now.”
Concern Worldwide is helping communities in Kenya respond to a devastating drought which hit in late 2021. The drought is affecting over 2 million people including 111,000 children at risk of death from starvation. Declared a national emergency by the government, it has dried up water sources and killed livestock and food crops across almost half the country.
“More than 111,000 children under the age of five years are severely malnourished and at risk of loss of life without humanitarian assistance,” said Concern’s Country Director in Kenya, Arshad Muhammad.
“The areas impacted are already the poorest and most food insecure in the country. Families who had to walk 2-5km each day to get clean water are now having to walk twice or three times that distance.”
Little or no rain has fallen during the past two rainy seasons and the situation is expected to get worse.
Kenya has experienced emergency droughts every 10 years since 1904 when records in the country began, but since 2001, they have occurred every three to five years.
“The increased frequency means the affected populations don’t get enough time to recover and rebuild their assets before the next drought,” added Mr Muhammad. “It is the opinion of many that this is an example of the impact climate change can have. Our immediate focus is to help alleviate the suffering and extreme poverty these droughts cause. The drought has affected all farming and livestock, which means families struggle to find enough food to eat and we are very concerned for young children with less or no milk available.”
He said that over 520,000 children under the age of five in Kenya are currently acutely malnourished with over 110,000 of these severely malnourished, which means they are more likely to die from poor nutrition without treatment.
Concern, which has been working in Kenya since 2002, is helping the Kenyan authorities by supporting government officials and community volunteers who are going to households and screening children for acute malnutrition and by helping to provide the treatment the children need.
Concern’s Kenyan team are also repairing lifesaving water wells and boreholes in addition to treating and vaccinating livestock that are facing drought-related diseases.
As climate change, conflict, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 increasingly drive hunger around the world, it can be challenging to pause and celebrate successes. Today’s report on Concern’s response to the hunger crisis in East Africa features one such story – the result of a locally-led, contextually-sensitive approach to livelihood development that simultaneously addresses income security, nutrition, gender equality, and education to uplift a whole community.
The Chalbi desert was once part of an extensive lake in northern Kenya. At around 38,600 square miles (slightly bigger than the state of Indiana), it’s aptly named: In Borana, the language spoken by the Gabra people who live in this region, “Chalbi” means “bare and salty.”
When the rain comes, the desert fills with shallow water and is frequented by wildlife including ostriches, zebras, and spotted hyenas. But when the rain disappears, the endless stretch of desert provides a unique opportunity for the nomadic Gabra tribe: Desert salt. This salt provides essential nutrients for livestock (it’s said to help animals grow healthier) and yield better produce. But not everyone has access to it, especially those living in the hills where Kenya borders Ethiopia. This is where the Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group comes in.
A group of 15 women embark on a two-day trip to collect salt from the desert, which is 12 miles away. They then sell the salt to local farmers and herders, who either mix it with water or let their animals lick it in its pure form. This salt provides a great source of income for these hard-working women, not only to buy food for their families but to also pool their income together into a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) so that they can all invest in a better future.
Not all women can get access to banks or credit, which is a substantial barrier to escaping extreme poverty. With a VSLA, this group can do so on their own. Every Monday, the group meets and each member contributes 200 Kenyan shillings (a little under $2.00). They then lend a part of this savings to a woman who needs some extra funds for her business (such as seeds) or her family (such as an unforeseen medical expense). The money is paid back with a modest interest rate that is also added to the savings box and used to help the next woman who needs it, thereby continuing the cycle of support.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“We’re supporting girls’ education so they don’t fall behind,” says Doke, a member of the group. “If you educate a girl child and she pursues well in her studies, she will get somewhere. She not only supports her family, but the entire community can benefit.”
The Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group puts some of their profits towards supporting girls’ education in the area, recognizing that an education is key in helping the next generation build a pathway out of poverty. So far, the Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group has supported ten girls in their community, aged 11-14, by providing uniforms, exercise books and pens.
As a natural resource, desert salt is (naturally) unreliable. During the rainy season, it completely dissolves, leaving nothing behind. Members of the group recall one time getting caught in the rain while returning home with 100 bags of salt, their hard work put to waste without any shelter. Doke says she and the group began to panic during the long rainy season.
In response to this, Concern provided the funding needed to keep the Chalbi Salt group afloat through the season. A cash grant of 25,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $225) helped to cover the lost income. We also led agricultural and business trainings with skills that the group members could use in periods of increasingly erratic weather in northern Kenya, where the climate crisis is being felt acutely.
With the money left over, Doke and her group invested in other non-weather-dependent businesses, such as buying and selling clothes. The group are now back on their feet and making exciting plans for more future investments, such as a vehicle to transport the salt quickly and safely. For now, though, their ambition and determination to support local women and girls shines through every step of their 12-mile journey.
Concern has spent nearly two decades in Kenya, working both in urban contexts of Nairobi and rural communities such as Doke’s. Last year, we worked with 74 communities to achieve self-sustaining livelihoods and lives, meaning that they no longer need to rely on us for support.
Thank you for supporting meaningful and lasting change in East African communities facing extreme poverty and hunger.
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