NAIROBI, April 21, 2022 – A poor start to the rainy season in the Horn of Africa has added to fears that the worst drought in decades could soon have catastrophic results, with the war-aggravated crisis in Ukraine pushing up food prices and diverting international attention, Save the Children mentioned.
More … than 16 million people, including many children, are already in urgent need of food assistance in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, which are currently experiencing an unprecedented fourth consecutive rainy season, after receiving below-average rains until present during the rainy season from March to May.
Kenya and Ethiopia received light showers only after seven weeks of the rainy season. Forecasts from Kenya’s Meteorological Department and Ethiopia’s Crop Monitor for Early Warning point to a below-average season, warning it could push more people into dire straits. Already, 3.5 million people in Kenya lack food and up to 6.5 million people in southern Ethiopia need assistance.
In Somalia, almost a third of the population, or 4.8 million people, face severe food shortages and the UN warned of impending famine in three months due to the drought-causing La Niña weather system, inadequate humanitarian aid and rising food prices. It raises fears of a repeat of the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, half of whom were under the age of five.
Save the Children staff in Somalia said only a few pockets in the drought-stricken country had received small amounts of rain two weeks into the season. Provides show an increased likelihood of below average rains this season from April to June in central and southern Somalia where millions of herders have been forced from their homes to live in displacement camps.
Along with one of the worst droughts in decades and huge funding shortfalls, the escalation of war in Ukraine seven weeks ago threatens to further plunge families and children in the Horn of Africa destitute, Save the Children said.
The cost of food in the region was already on an upward trend, driven by climatic shocks, locust invasions, conflicts and the difficult economic situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine sent shock waves through food markets.
Bread is a staple in East Africa, along with wheat and wheat products representing a third party average grain consumption in the region. Demand is mainly met by imports (84%), of which 90% of wheat imports come from Russia (72%) and Ukraine (18%)[i] and with prices rising over the past seven weeks.
Russia and Ukraine also account for almost three quarters of world exports sunflower oil, also a widely used commodity in the region.
In the Somali state of Puntland, the price of wheat flour has risen from $26 to $32 per 50 kg bag, and up to $36 in the towns of Garowe and Qardho[ii]. In the capital Mogadishu, the price of a 3 liter can of cooking oil tripled from $3 in January to $9 in March this year. Prices in rural areas have increased, up to $12 per container, which is attributed to an increase in the price of transport due to rising fuel prices.
In Ethiopia, the price of sorghum and maize increased by 9% and 4%, respectively, between February and March, while its protein-rich staple, teff, saw its prices jump by 1%, from $0.93 per kilo in March to $0.94 in April.[iii] Save the Children staff also report massive increases in sunflower oil prices.
In addition to immediate food access and availability, there are concerns about the longer-term impact on food production due to rising fuel prices and soaring fertilizer prices.
Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and the conflict has driven up prices at a time when the main planting season (March to May) is underway in Africa.
In Kenya, the price of a bag of fertilizer jumped 50% last year to around $60 and rose again to $70.[iv] since February 24. This will mean that smallholder farmers will use less fertilizer leading to lower productivity, while largeholder farmers will be hit by fuel costs for tractors and other machinery.
Save the Children’s Country Director for Somalia, Mohamud Mohamed Hassan, said:
“As Somalia faces a new round of drought, the situation is getting worse by the day and the war in Ukraine has dealt a serious blow to an already perilous situation. Somalia is heavily dependent on food imports to feed its population. Over 90% [v] of Somali wheat flour imports come from Russia and Ukraine and any decline in trade will inevitably take the food basket away from families and children and further aggravate the impact of the drought. With soaring food and fuel prices in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, we reaffirm that now is the time to act and avert catastrophe.
In Somalia, more than 720,000 people have abandoned their homes in search of food and water in the past eight months, their ability to cope already eroded by decades of conflict, political instability, climatic shocks and COVID-19. The UN estimates that 1.4 million children[vi] could suffer from acute malnutrition by the middle of the year – up 64% from two years ago – with 330,000 people suffering from severe malnutrition if the deterioration of the situation is not resolved.
Malnutrition cases are also skyrocketing in Kenya where 755,000 children need urgent treatment for acute malnutrition, and 103,000 pregnant and lactating women are acutely malnourished and need urgent treatment.
Save the Children’s Country Director for Kenya, Yvonne Arunga, said:
“In the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, people are facing an emergency food situation and children have to make do with one meal a day. Without urgent intervention, every hour pushes families and children closer and closer to the brink of starvation. We urge the international community to make more funds available for the drought response before the situation spirals out of control.
There is a $4.4 billion UN humanitarian appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, but funding is critically low, with concerns the conflict in Ukraine is dominating international attention and other global crises begin to slip under the radar.
In Ethiopia, Save the Children is warning that a prolonged and devastating drought is eroding the resilience of children and families, already strained by 16 months of conflict and two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 8.1 million people need immediate food aid, and more than 286,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes in search of food and water.[vii] Save the Children said pastoral families have now lost more than 1.46 million head of cattle. This has led to children running out of milk, their main source of nutrition, with up to 890,000 children under the age of five now suffering from malnutrition.
Save the Children’s Country Director for Ethiopia, Xavier Joubert, said:
“Ethiopia’s hunger crisis is expected to worsen in the coming months due to the forecasted fourth below-average rainy season and the approaching lean season which runs from June to September. It has been reported that families in the Dawa area of the Somali region are adopting all possible coping mechanisms due to food scarcity, including skipping meals and reducing food portions.
Save the Children has worked in the Horn of Africa for over 70 years and is a national and international leader in humanitarian and development programs in the areas of health, nutrition, water, hygiene and sanitation, education, child protection and child rights governance. In 2021, Save the Children reached 12,185,726 people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, including over 7,624,620 children.
[i] WFP (2022) Implications of the Ukrainian conflict on food access and availability in the East African region
iiWFP (2022) Implications of the Ukrainian conflict on food access and availability in the East African region
[iii] Joint Market Surveillance Initiative in Ethiopia and Grain Retailer in Addis Ababa
[v] Implications of the conflict in Ukraine on food access and availability in the East African region
[vii] OCHA data