Cry, the beloved Horn of Africa

Monday November 14 2022

Hungry residents of northern Kenya queue for food aid. PHOTO: FILE

By Sara Mbago-Bhunu
By David Phiri

After the failure of four rainy seasons over two years, at least 36 million people across the Horn of Africa are suffering a prolonged drought, with 21 million highly food insecure.  

In parts of Somalia, the situation is projected to reach famine levels if humanitarian aid is not significantly increased. It’s a disaster like nothing we have seen in the past 40 years. Yet the world’s attention is elsewhere. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has pushed the Horn of Africa drought off headlines and away from donors’ attention, while increasing food prices and reducing availability of grain imports. Lives are being lost as a result.

About two million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia require urgent treatment for  acute malnutrition. The drought has killed vast swathes of crops, pasture and livestock and dried up water sources, leading to more than 1.7 million people fleeing their homes. More than nine  million livestock have died, and 15 million children are out of school.

The number of people without reliable access to safe water has risen to 16.2 million, leading to outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoea. With a fifth rainy season already failing, livelihoods have been stretched to the point of no return. 

This is a taste of what is to come for the wider world in the coming decades, with climatic shocks becoming more frequent and severe. And here is another reason why the world cannot afford to ignore this disaster – it is driven by climate change.

To deal with the crisis in the Horn of Africa, we need to not only respond to people’s immediate needs but also to build their resilience to adapt to and cope with climate change.  


This is also an equity issue. Research has shown that the countries least responsible for climate change are the ones bearing the brunt of its impact. Somalia, for example, is responsible for only 0.01 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, but is ranked as the fourth worst-affected country in the world in Unicef’s Global Children’s Climate Risk Index.

The United Nations and its partners are delivering assistance and responding to the immediate needs of people affected by the drought.

Unicef is providing life-saving aid to children and families in the areas of nutrition, health, education, child protection, water and sanitation and is investing in resilience through water programmes and social protection.

The World Food Programme has arranged four shipments of Ukrainian grain to the region so far and has scaled up food and cash assistance and specialised nutrition support for young children, mothers and pregnant women.

 The Food and Agriculture Organisation is distributing packages of animal feed and vaccines, quality seeds and farming tools, restoring water points and providing training on climate-smart agricultural practices.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is supporting the production of cultivated fodder, supply of forage seed and adapted feeding and herd management techniques, helping to restore soil carbon, health and fertility.

These kinds of solutions to climate-driven emergencies are vital. Children and their families are being worn down, year after year, with no time for recovery. The world has a rapidly shrinking window to avoid catastrophe in the Horn of Africa – but to do so requires more financial support. 

However, the United Nations is struggling to raise funds to build communities’ resilience to climate change in areas such as social protection, boreholes, water harvesting, drought-resistant crops and sustainable feed production. Without investment in these areas, the conditions will not change, and the cycle of disasters will continue.

That’s why the four UN agencies are appealing for $3.3 billion to provide urgent aid and climate resilience support to families across the region. This appeal is only 42 percent funded, with most of this going to immediate interventions. In the meantime, the critical needs continue to grow. These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary support.

Mohamed Malick Fall is Unicef Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Michael Dunford is  WFP Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Chimimba David Phiri is FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Sara Mbago-Bhunu is IFAD Director for East and Southern Africa.