Geographies in Depth

The Horn of Africa is facing an unprecedented drought. What is the world doing to help solve it?

Cattle affected by the effects of the drought situation eat fodder in an open field in Adadle district, Biyolow Kebele in Somali region of Ethiopia, along the Horn of Africa, in this undated handout photograph. Michael Tewelde/World Food Programme/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.

The Horn of Africa is facing severe drought. Image: via REUTERS

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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This article was updated on 3 March 2023. It was originally published on 21 July 2022.

  • The Horn of Africa is facing severe drought following years of below-average rainfall.
  • Little rainfall is predicted in the coming months, which is normally the region's rainy season.
  • Around 23 million people are experiencing food insecurity in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
  • The United Nations says $3.8 billion is needed to help provide life-saving assistance to avoid a "humanitarian catastrophe".

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in many decades. The East African region stretches from Eritrea in the north, through Ethiopia and Djibouti to the southern tips of Kenya and Somalia.

Around 23 million people are acutely food insecure in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, according to the US government's Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU). Roughly 7.5 million children are acutely malnourished, it says. The UN refugee agency UNHCR says an estimated 3.3 million people have been displaced.

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The region has had lower-than-average rainfall for five consecutive rainy seasons. Kenya-based climate monitoring group the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre says that below-average-rainfall is expected over the next three months, which could lead to the region's sixth failed rainy season. It says that in the most severely affected areas, drought conditions are worse than in 2010-2011, when hundreds of thousands of people died.

Horn of Africa drought and food insecurity.
Severe droughts have left millions of people in the Horn of Africa facing famine. Image: Humanitarian Information Unit

Ethiopia

Around 590,000 people were internally displaced in Ethiopia by drought between January and September 2022, according to the HIU. Approximately 11.9 million are food insecure and 4.8 million children are facing acute malnutrition. On top of this, an estimated 4 million livestock animals have died. The conflict in the northern region of Tigray, ongoing since November 2020, has also worsened the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia.

Somalia

Around 6.7 million people don’t have enough food and 1.8 million children are "acutely malnourished" in areas affected by drought, the HIU says. More than 1 million people have been internally displaced by drought since January 2021. The HIU estimates that 3 million livestock have died.

Kenya

A total of 4.4 million people are food insecure and 942,000 children in drought-affected areas are acutely malnourished, according to the HIU. An estimated 2.5 million livestock have died. However, the UN does not expect long-term internal displacement or people to cross into Ethiopia or Somalia.

Cows Kenya drought Horn of Africa livestock
An estimated 2.5 million livestock have died in Kenya because of the drought. Image: Oxfam

Crisis caused by complex factors

A combination of the climate crisis, armed conflicts, rising international food and fuel prices and the impact of COVID-19 are factors behind the current crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also impacted wheat and fertilizer supplies to the Horn of Africa.

"While famine has so far been averted in Somalia, mostly due to a stepped-up humanitarian response, people continue to battle life-threatening food and water shortages resulting from massive losses of harvests, livestock, and income. Local commodity prices also remain at an all-time high, out of reach for many. The dangerous confluence of climate and conflict in the region is worsening an already dire humanitarian situation," UNHCR spokesperson Olga Sarrado Mur said in a press briefing at the end of February 2023.

Massive funding effort underway

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says "a humanitarian catastrophe is already under way, and will worsen in the months ahead, if humanitarian assistance is not urgently scaled up and fully funded." It says last year only 62% of the $3.8 billion needed to respond to the crisis has been forthcoming.

OCHA is seeking $2.6 billion for Somalia alone, where it says the threat of famine remains a "strong possibility". It says half the population, an estimated 8.25 million people, need immediate life-saving assistance.

OCHA adds that the drought response has been mainly relying on the United States, which has accounted for 84% of funding for Kenya, 70% for Ethiopia and 69% for Somalia. It says it is vital that additional donors immediately "step-up" their solidarity.

Children tree Horn of Africa drought Ethiopia
Children displaced by drought in Ethiopia. Image: UNICEF

The WHO warns of dire health crisis

The World Health Organization (WHO) says multiple disease outbreaks are ongoing in the Horn of Africa region. It says Somalia has been reporting 300 cholera cases a week, and the disease is also prevalent in Ethiopia and Kenya. Despite vaccination campaigns, measles outbreaks are occurring across the region.

The WHO says it has allocated more than $16 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE). This is the CFE’s largest financial allocation to date. However it says as of the end of 2022, just 43% of the $123.8 million it appealed for has been funded.

"Sustained humanitarian assistance will be essential to address the needs beyond 2022, and a rapid identification of additional funding and resources is needed to mitigate unprecedented morbidity and mortality", the WHO says.

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Geographies in DepthFood and WaterNature and Biodiversity
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