Though not uncommon throughout Africa, food insecurity is now at a climax. An estimated 346 million people are now suffering from food shortages in the continent, according to the latest estimates by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The problem is severe in East Africa, where the number of people at risk of dying because of hunger looms large. 

A case in point is Somalia, where there are over six million people in need of urgent assistance. A nation that is already struggling to feed its people due to climate change and internal conflict, the East African country lost over a million of its cattle population, while leaving 1.4 million children malnourished.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula called the current situation in the country “extremely dire and grim, with 7.1 million people affected by the drought before the end of this year.” The figure includes 771,400 Somalians, who have been displaced from their homes in search of water, food and pasture; mostly women and children.

The problem is also well observed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“We are walking a tightrope here. We have to make the difficult decision of whether to increase the amount of cash we give each family or bring in more families and give them very little. The reality is, this situation will likely continue,” said Juerg Eglin, head of the ICRC in Somalia.

There is also a heightened risk of localized famine in six areas – including in South West State – particularly if food prices continue to rise and sustained humanitarian assistance does not reach the most vulnerable people, according to the UN.

The situation is a little different in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Over 3.6 million livestock have died in the two countries. From that figure, two million perished in Ethiopia, particularly in Somali and East Oromia region. 

With the number of drought-affected people increasing, international agencies are warning famine may occur and the world is likely to witness the biggest catastrophe in decades.

“The combined effect of drought and other shocks has led to significant deterioration in food security from 12-14 million people in the first quarter of 2022 to at least 15-16 million in the second quarter as the drought conditions intensified,” WFP said.

Even though there were hopes it will rain in March, the outcome was disappointing to say the least. The target to store water resources in order to support crop production has been unsuccessful. The rain was below 20 mm in most drought affected areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Urging stakeholders to enhance access to water, WFP said “water resources across northeastern Kenya, southern and southeast Ethiopia and Somalia have not adequately been replenished and communities will continue to face water shortages.”

Despite signs that indicate the situation could deteriorate further, the funding gap to address the issue is something that is concerning all actors involved in the drought-response efforts across the three countries.

In Somalia, out of the USD 1.5 billion needed to help 5.5 million Somalis exposed to drought, only 15.7 percent of the budget has been secured.

 “With the limited resources that we have, we have only been able, between the months of January and April, reach 2.4 million out of all those in need of humanitarian assistance,” Adam said.

Ethiopia is also facing similar challenges. With the government facing budget constraints due to the war in Northern Ethiopia, which has inflated the defense budget of the federal state, the drought has not received the attention it deserves, according to observers.

However, officials have lately announced that efforts to reduce the impacts of the drought are underway. In addition to allocating five billion birr by the federal government, irrigation farms and wells are currently under construction, with a budget of 338 million birr.

Yet efforts were further undermined by the war between Russia and Ukraine, which has led to drastic surges in price of commodities like wheat. In March 2022, global food prices reached an all-time high, according to FAO, which estimated the figure to have reached 23 percent on average across Africa. The number is more petrifying in Ethiopia, where the cost of a food basket rose by 66 percent between February 2021 and February 2022.

Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam EU food expert, urged EU leaders, who convened to debate over solutions to reduce the impacts of the war on food security, to play a big role in preventing the crisis looming in the Horn and other parts of the world because of the fighting between Russia and Ukraine.

“We know the current food system does not work. It is based on unequal distribution and overdependence on food imports,” said the expert, adding, “Countries in many parts of the world are dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat to feed their people. This dependency is dangerous. It makes countries vulnerable to market disruptions and price hikes. As prices increase sharply, more people cannot afford the food that is already there.”

Source: The Reporter Ethiopia

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