Africa battles worst drought in 60 years, aid agencies warn

Sunday July 10 2011

By PAUL REDFERN

With the UN warning that both East and the Horn of Africa have been hit by the worst drought in 60 years, international aid agencies have warned of an alarming gap in the food pipeline to reach those most in need.

More than 10 million people are thought to be affected across the East African region. The UN says that large swathes of central Kenya and Somalia are now in the “emergency” category, one phase before what is officially classified as famine.

The crisis is most acute in Somalia, Ethiopia and; central and northern Kenya. Refugees are now arriving at the Somali camps in northern Kenya, at a rate of 1,200 every day.

Aid agencies told the UK-based Independent on Sunday, of the terrible plight of these families from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Save the Children has launched an emergency response to the crisis, said: The charity’s Kenya programme director, Catherine Fitzgibbon, said: “Children have made long journeys in terrifying conditions, often losing their families along the way and arriving at the camps in desperate need of security, healthcare and a normal life.”

Neil Thorns, Cafod’s director of advocacy, who led an emergency conference on food shortages in Nairobi last week, said: “There’s no rain, no crops and the livestock are dying. There is nothing on the horizon that will make any of that better, and it’s almost certain it will get much worse. People are migrating in their tens of thousands, but there is nowhere better for them to go. Governments need to wake up to the urgency of the situation.”

Cafod said one aid worker, Nelly Shonko, drove the 100-odd miles between Marsabit in northern Kenya and Moyale on the border with Ethiopia, “seeing hundreds of rural people moving the other way, carrying all their possessions in search of food for their livestock. She knew that the land they were walking towards was no better than where they’d come from.”

Adan Kabelo, head of Oxfam in Somalia, said in a blog: “The situation is truly shocking, we are facing a terrible human catastrophe unless the world acts quickly.”

WFP says: “In June, the famine early-warning systems network said it had compared rainfall data for Kenya and Ethiopia and concluded that 2010-11 was the driest or second driest year since 1950-51 in 11 of 15 analysed pastoral zones.

“Two consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in one of the driest years since 1950/51 in many pastoral zones,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said. “There is no likelihood of improvement until 2012.”

Child malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas are more than double the emergency threshold of 15 per cent and are expected to rise further, Byrs said.

Of mounting concern to aid agencies is the news that humanitarian appeals for Somalia and Kenya, each for about $525 million, are barely 50 per cent funded.

The famine looms at a time when food prices have been increasing sharply for some time. Since last May, the price of maize has more than doubled in parts of Ethiopia, and that of red sorghum has risen in Somalia by 240 per cent. In Kenya, white maize now costs 58 per cent more than it did a year ago.

World Food Programme warned that unless more money is given soon, the crisis will deepen. “The humanitarian response in Somalia and Ethiopia in particular is hampered by large funding shortfalls,” it said. “New contributions are urgently needed or suffering will grow.”

Prasant Naik, Save the Children’s Kenya country director said, “Frequent droughts ravage the region. Rains are expected, and fail. There is a serious shortage of water and food for children and their families, leading to widespread devastation of farmland, failed harvests and livestock death. The ground has cracked here, and swathes of brown land have replaced green.”

The UK-based aid agency is urgently appealing for funds, so it can reach the most vulnerable and increase these families’ chances of survival. With food prices rising substantially across the region, NGOs warn many moderately poor households have been pushed over the edge.

“Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resilience to the limit.

“Families are eating only one meal a day at most, and the cheapest food they can find. Without proper, nourishing food, families are weak and vulnerable to disease

“Malnutrition is serious. It causes stunting, stops children developing physically and mentally, and ultimately causes death. It is one of the biggest killers of under fives in the world.”

Now the UK-based aid agency Save the Children is urgently appealing for more funds, so it can reach the most vulnerable children, and increase these families’ chances of survival.

With food prices rising substantially across the region, NGOs warn many moderately poor households have been pushed over the edge.