Horn of Africa Drought Expected to Enter Third Year, Response Only 50% Funded
The ongoing drought in the eastern Horn of Africa has already shattered records in terms of its length and severity, and according to a new multi-agency alert, relief is likely not coming soon for the millions of people currently facing starvation in the region.
In a Joint Statement published on November 7, sixteen international organizations called on the global community to immediately ramp up assistance to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia as forecasts indicate a strong likelihood the ongoing rainy season and upcoming rainy season from March to May 2023 will be below average. If both seasons fail to perform, the region will have faced an unprecedented six consecutive below-average rainy seasons.
For two years, food security organizations including the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) have published forecasts and alerts of impending droughts in the eastern Horn, which have all thus far been realized. Consecutive shocks have left little room for relief in communities at risk of acute food insecurity, many of which were still recovering from a 2017 drought.
“Even if the March-to-May 2023 rainy season performs well, which forecasts suggest is unlikely, it will take years for impacted communities in the eastern Horn to recover from the damage that has already been done over the past two years of drought,” FEWS NET Team Leader Kiersten Johnson said in a press release.
According to the Joint Statement, an estimated 20.9 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are highly food insecure. FEWS NET estimates the population in need of food assistance will rise to 20-25 million people in early to mid-2023.
Despite continuous warnings by international organizations over the last two years, drought responses for all three countries remain only 50-percent funded. Contributions by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) account for a majority of these funds, with nearly $1.8 billion dedicated to humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa in 2022 alone.
The organizations that signed onto the most recent Joint Statement hope news of escalating needs and further grim weather forecasts will drive other governments and global agencies to respond appropriately.
“We do not need to wait for an official Famine declaration in any of these countries to warrant action,” Johnson said. “Millions of peoples’ lives are already at risk. Lives will continue to be lost and people will continue to suffer if the drought response continues to be underfunded.”
History has shown that widespread hunger-related deaths can occur even if the official thresholds for Famine (IPC Phase 5) have not been met. It remains within the realm of possibility that the current drought series could result in a death toll higher than that of the 2011-2012 catastrophe in Somalia, during which a majority of the 260,000 deaths occurred before a Famine was declared, according to a mortality study.
While the lack of response in the eastern Horn may be partially attributable to a phenomenon known as “drought fatigue," other global events in recent years — including the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine crisis and skyrocketing inflation — have not only taken attention away from the ongoing drought disaster, but have also compounded its effects.
Food security and agroclimatology experts are certain the exceptional nature of the ongoing drought warrants increased global attention. The current drought, which began in late 2020, is being described as the longest and most severe drought recorded in the Horn of Africa in at least 70 years. The disaster has resulted in multiple failed harvests and large-scale livestock deaths that have decimated food and income sources for rural communities, increased the cost of food among urban communities and led to rising levels of destitution and displacement.
“We are witnessing a culmination of exceptional events, including the effects of climate change, La Niña-induced dry seasons, a global pandemic and numerous conflicts that, combined, are wreaking havoc on communities in the eastern Horn of Africa,” Johnson said. “We do not need to wait for more drought records to be broken in 2023. The situation is already severe, and a more robust and unified global response is needed now if a significant loss of life is to be averted.”