Drought-stricken displaced persons camp, Ethiopia.
Around the world, droughts are becoming increasingly common due to rising global temperatures—and have serious impacts, leading to crop failures, famine and malnutrition. East Africa, for example, is facing its worst drought in years, affecting 40 million people. Many are facing near-famine and malnutrition because of the drought’s impact on food supplies.
What is drought?
Drought is caused by a lack of rainfall, causing serious water shortages. It can be fatal. More specifically, drought is defined by a period of unusually dry weather caused by low rainfall and high temperatures. Drought has affected more people in the last 40 years than any other natural disaster. The severity of drought worsens over time. When it arrives, drought can last for weeks, months, or years—sometimes, the effects last decades.
How are people impacted by drought?
Drought causes food insecurity when crops fail. When a substantial part of the population can no longer access food, this is known as “famine,” and results in widespread acute malnutrition, disease and death across the affected region. East Africa is currently experiencing widespread food shortages and near-famine, with millions of children under 5 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Effective treatment for children suffering from malnutrition exists, but often does not reach those most in need. The IRC has developed a simplified process for treating malnutrition in order to reach more children with lower costs. Drought also affects vital access to clean drinking water. This can lead to people drinking contaminated water, which brings about outbreaks of diseases like cholera and typhoid. T
Dry conditions also cause wildfires that burn remaining vegetation, endanger homes, and impact air quality which exacerbates chronic lung conditions. People must travel further to find clean water. This usually falls to women and children, who must sacrifice other work and school to carry out an incredibly physical task. Without access to clean water or food, many must permanently leave their homes in order to survive. The World Health Organization states, “Water scarcity impacts 40% of the world’s population, and as many as 700 million people are at risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030.”
Research has also found that drought exacerbates existing conflicts. People migrating en masse from areas of drought and famine can result in increased political tensions and conflict due to increased competition for resources. There is evidence that drought contributed to the conflict in Syria, for example.
Which countries are in a drought?
Developing countries are most vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of drought due to a large percentage of their population being employed in the agriculture industry.In Africa droughts pose a high risk and the following countries in East Africa are severely affected by drought:
- Somalia where drought is leading to near-famine conditions
- Kenya which has experienced a record six below average rainy seasons
- Ethiopia has seen six below average rainy seasons in a drought affecting 31 million people
Over 40 million people have been impacted by the drought across East Africa. The drought affecting countries like Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia began in October 2020. Throughout these regions, insecurity, severe drought, and an exponential increase in food prices have brought millions to the brink of famine.
“Somalia is seeing the worst of the crisis, with over 200,000 already living in the most extremes of hunger, but the challenge is regional,” says Abukar Mohamud, IRC’s Deputy Director of Programs for Somalia. “Across East Africa, people are facing the worst drought in 40 years. “People are not just dying due to a lack of food. Hunger means their weakened bodies cannot fight off diseases like diarrhea, measles or malaria, so death rates are high. Children are particularly at risk and often die at double the rate of adults. And those who survive will face ill health for the rest of their lives. The 2011 famine saw over 250,000 people die of hunger – half of whom were children.”
What is the IRC doing to help in East Africa?
East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programs globally. Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs. This includes health programming, food and cash assistance, and providing clean water. Currently, 80% of malnourished children do not have access to treatment. The IRC has developed a streamlined approach for treatment so that more children can access treatment and recover. We are working to raise funds and remove blocks so that this treatment can be distributed at scale in places like East Africa.
How can you support us?
One of the best ways you can help our teams from afar is doing exactly what you’re doing now: stay informed about what’s happening—and donate! Without your help, dedicated nutrition programs like the one mentioned above wouldn’t be possible. Our teams work across more than 59 crisis-affected countries because generous supporters like you choose to fuel our work year after year. Thank you!
IRC screens a child for malnutrition.
Burnt coffee beans from the drought.