An estimated 13 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are facing severe hunger as the Horn of Africa experiences its worst drought in decades, the UN said on February 8.
Three consecutive rainy seasons have failed as the region has recorded its driest conditions since 1981, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said.
The drought has destroyed crops and inflicted “abnormally” high livestock deaths, forcing rural families who rely on herding and farming to abandon their homes.
Water and grazing land is in short supply and forecasts of below-average rainfall in the coming months only threaten more misery, said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director in East Africa.
“Harvests are ruined, livestock are dying, and hunger is growing as recurrent droughts affect the Horn of Africa,” he said in a statement.
“The situation requires immediate humanitarian action” to avoid a repeat of a crisis like that of Somalia in 2011, when 250,000 died of hunger during a prolonged drought.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri described the scene he witnessed during a recent trip to northeastern Kenya.
“While it’s common to see dead livestock by the roadside … this time, they have not been hit by passing vehicles: they have died from thirst and starvation, and died in large numbers,” he said. “The drought is widespread, severe and likely to grow worse.”
Food aid is being distributed across an arid swathe of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where malnutrition rates are high and some 13 million people are at risk of severe hunger in the first quarter of this year.