Growing alarm over spread of famine-like conditions in Horn of Africa

Concern has scaled up its operations to reach 2.5m people in the region, says director

There is growing alarm over the spread of famine-like conditions in the Horn of Africa where, with 7.7 million people in Somalia now in need of humanitarian assistance due to drought and, for the first time since 2017, an estimated 213,000 people are facing hunger.

Half of the children (about 3.6 million) in Somalia are malnourished, as basic foods have increased in price by more than 160 per cent while food inflation generally has risen by 15 per cent on average.

In Ethiopia, 7.2 million people need food assistance and more than half of them also need access to drinking water. Nearly 2.1 million livestock have died there. In pastoral areas of Kenya, more than 90 per cent of open water sources have dried up with those remaining expected to last one to two months. Almost 1 million children under five there are in urgent need of help while 1.5 million livestock have died.

Concern’s regional director for the Horn of Africa, Amina Abdulla, said it had scaled up its operations to reach 2.5 million people there, as well as in Sudan and South Sudan. “I was here in Kenya in 2011 and during that drought at least 260,000 people died in the Horn of Africa. What I am seeing now is far worse,” she said.

“We are dealing with double the caseloads we had back then and the numbers keep increasing by the day with thousands of people moving from their homes in search food, water and healthcare,” she said.

More than 300,000 children across the region, currently at risk of dying from malnutrition, “must not become a statistic”, she said. “We need resources to meet the needs of the affected communities,” she said, “we need more funding to enable humanitarian organisations to respond to all in need.”

Normally, dependency in the region on imported grain, mainly from Ukraine and Russia, increases in the second half of the year during the lean season prior to harvest. Given the lack of rain, the reliance is much greater this year, but rising prices and lack of availability will see many people unable to afford or have access to grain.

In June, President Michael D Higgins warned that the Horn of Africa faced a crisis “of catastrophic proportions” where “one person is likely to be dying of hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.”

In an article for The Irish Times he said “the number of people experiencing extreme hunger in these countries has more than doubled since last year — from more than 10 million to more than 23 million today, with nearly half a million people in parts of Somalia and Ethiopia facing famine-like conditions”.

What was happening there was “already being called the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second World War”, he said. The growing impact of climate change, compounded by conflict and the fallout from Covid-19, and an unparalleled period of drought there, had “devastated crops and destroyed livelihoods, forcing millions of people to leave their homes”, he said.

He noted how the G7 countries had announced an investment of $600 billion for developing countries. “The sum needed immediately for famine relief in the Horn of Africa is tiny in comparison with what is being promised elsewhere,” he said.

Addressing the Irish people directly, he said, “We as a nation — and the global community — cannot avert our gaze. We have a moral and ethical responsibility as a country that has historically known terrible deprivation and hunger ourselves to reach out and support our brothers and sisters in need.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times