Humanitarian crisis brewing; communities will need years to recover from this historically severe drought
A sixth consecutive failed rainy season is expected to deepen the drought crisis faced by millions of people in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA), according to two recent analyses.
As of February 2023, the last five rainy seasons have been deficit and the upcoming one in March-May is expected to be below average, noted a joint statement released by multilateral agencies and another report by REACH, a humanitarian initiative.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were the agencies that contributed to the statement released February 16, 2023.
The region is facing an unprecedented three-year-long drought, leaving communities in urgent need of assistance. Three countries in the Horn of Africa — Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia — have been experiencing an ongoing drought since late 2020.
The current drought began with a dip in rainfall in October-December, 2020. The crisis deepened, with all four subsequent seasons adding to it. The rainfall in March-May is projected to be below normal to normal and is unlikely to be above normal, according to climate experts.
Another below-normal rainfall implies that the region needs to be prepared for the sixth consecutive drought. Historically, this could be the longest sequence of dry seasons ever recorded in the Horn of Africa after the one in 2022.
Long rains (March-May season) in 2022 performed the worst in over 73 years. This year’s season is likely to follow suit, according to the regional analysis released by REACH.
A combination of variables, including rising temperatures due to climate change as well as LaNiña, might have contributed to the drought, according to the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
There is over a 50 per cent chance of an El Niño formation in the second half of 2023, said the multilateral agencies. These early forecasts carry a considerable amount of uncertainty.
If the predictions come true, it could result in reduced rains in the highlands of Ethiopia, western Kenya, parts of South Sudan and Sudan towards the end of the June-September season.
The catastrophic consequences of the multi-year drought owing to deficit rainfall will continue through 2023, alerted the agencies.
The impact of the current drought on food security and livelihoods, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene, is widespread, according to REACH.
As of January 2023, 22.5 to 23.4 million people have been facing acute food insecurity primarily due to drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
In Kenya, about six million people in 32 counties are affected by the prolonged drought and acute malnutrition following a fifth consecutive poor rainfall season. The situation is particularly grim in the counties classified as arid and semi-arid, according to a report by Kenya’s National Drought and Management Authority, released this week.
This warns of an impending humanitarian crisis where the communities will need years to recover from this historically severe drought, said the WFP.
“Recovery in cropping zones from last year will also be a challenge, as households have little to no resources left to invest in planting and will require livelihood support to restart activities when favourable rains eventually come,” stated the multi-agency statement.
There is a likelihood of abundant rainfall over currently drought-affected areas of the Horn of Africa during the short rainy season (between October and December).
Extreme heavy rainfalls in a short span will bring in additional shocks like flash floods and water-borne diseases.These disasters will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis faced by the communities.
This “humanitarian emergency” will persist until at least late 2023 and demands high assistance levels to prevent further deterioration, said international agencies.
To address the devastating drought-induced hunger and malnutrition across the region, WFP has developed a regional drought response plan for the Horn of Africa.
This includes the dual strategy of meeting immediate life-saving food and nutritional needs while simultaneously building resilience to extreme climate variability.
Nearly $2.4 billion is urgently required by the WFP in the year 2023 to meet the critical needs of 8.8 million drought-affected people across three countries in the region — Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Kenya’s President William Ruto, on February 16, 2023, called for scaling up interventions to tackle the current drought and allocated Sh6 billion in the latest Supplementary Budget.
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