In several ways the situation is worse than in 2010-11 because (i) this is the third consecutive year of drought in the region and multiple years of diminished food production has exhausted people’s capacity to cope with another shock; (ii) the greater region suffers from chronic and intensifying conflicts, continued access constraints in some areas, rising refugee numbers and communicable disease outbreaks; and (iii) the drought is expected to worsen in the coming months, with low rainfall forecast for March to May – which is the main rainy season for pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities in the current drought belt.
The drought has had a major impact on water resources, including on river flow levels and the availability of water for human and livestock consumption. In Somalia, the southern part of the Shabelle River has run dry, the Dawa River is drying faster the normal and the Juba River have reached very low levels. Most water points in worst-affected areas of the three countries are in near-dry status. Water supply for irrigated crop production has also been impacted as the drought extends over key river basins.
Widespread crop failures have affected farming and agro-pastoral communities in most of Somalia, southwestern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya, where poor moisture conditions prevented planting and stifled early crop growth. Areas dependent on the Deyr / Hagaya / short rains are facing significant food shortages and are likely to remain dependent on markets until the next harvest in February 2018.
Although global wheat and maize prices continued to fall during the last quarter of 2016, the FAO food price index for East Africa has more than doubled in 2016. This trend accelerated into 2017, including increases of 30 to 40 per cent for maize and sorghum in localized areas of Somalia and a 75 per cent spike in the price of maize in Uganda.
Livestock are becoming increasingly weak, contracting diseases and dying at alarming rates, with catastrophic consequences for pastoral communities. Significant livestock deaths are reported in drought-affected areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, mostly affecting sheep and cattle. Livestock losses have serious impact on livelihoods; even if half of a herd survives, it will take a minimum of two to four years for pastoralist and agro pastoralist households to recover.
Terms of trade are declining sharply for pastoralists, contributing to rising food insecurity and malnutrition. Livestock prices are collapsing due to poor body conditions and extremely limited demand. Sheep and goats are selling for about one-third the normal price, and cattle and camels are sold at half their usual value. In Marsabit, the price of a sheep has declined by 90 per cent. Herders are being forced to sell their remaining assets for very low prices to afford food for their families – the price of which is increasing.
Household production of milk and meat is low and the price of milk and other dairy products has skyrocketed. This means protein-rich food is increasingly out of reach for vulnerable pastoralists. Food consumption patterns are deteriorating, with many households in cross-border areas reporting that they are skipping meals and eating less when they do eat. In Turkana 42 per cent of households skipped the entire day without eating. Research shows the close link between forage condition and child malnutrition, and highlights the importance of early livelihood interventions, such as livestock offtake and animal feed provision, to reduce malnutrition.
12.8 million people in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia face are severely food insecure and are in need of humanitarian assistance. Following the short-rain assessment in January 2017, the number of food insecure people in Kenya has doubled to 2.7 million compared to 1.3 million in August 2016. Some 5.6 million people in Ethiopia require food assistance this year. Nearly 3 million Somalis are expected to face Crisis and Emergency levels by June 2017, more than double compared to the previous six months. Severe drought, rising prices, continued insecurity, humanitarian access limitations, and depressed rain forecasts suggest famine is possible in Somalia in 2017.
Approximately 600,000 children aged 6 to 59 months in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia will be in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2017 and this number is expected to rise rapidly. In Somalia, 13 out of 27 rural and displaced groups have Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates above emergency (15 per cent) levels. In Kenya three sub-counties (Turkana North, North Hor and Mandera) have GAM rates above 30 per cent – double the emergency threshold. Another six sub-counties (Turkana Central, Turkana South, Turkana West, Laisamis,
East Pokot and Isiolo) have GAM rates between 15 and 29 per cent.
The drought and the associated reduced access to water and sanitation has the potential to further exacerbate ongoing disease outbreaks and create new ones. About 15 million people will not have access to safe drinking water in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in 2017. In Somalia’s southern regions and Puntland 3,113 cases of cholera have been reported in January 2017, which is significantly higher than the number of cases recorded over the same period in 2016. Although the cholera outbreak affecting 30 out of 47 counties in Kenya since December 2014 has been contained – except in Tana River -, there is a risk of new cases appearing in border areas due to scarcity of water and the movement of people.
Drought, economic shocks and conflict in the region have disrupted the education of approximately 6 million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. An increase in school drop-outs and child labour has been observed across the region. In Somalia, more than 110,000 school-aged children enrolled in schools in drought-affected areas are at risk of being forced out of education. In Ethiopia, 578 schools have temporarily closed due to the effects of the drought, affecting nearly 228,000 students. In Kenya, 175,000 pre-primary and primary school children in ten counties are out of school due to drought.
The drought has triggered movements of families in search of grazing land, water and work, increasing the risk of family separation and tensions among communities over scarce resources. In the first three weeks of 2017 alone, more than 33,000 people were displaced due to drought in southern and central Somalia alone, including 3,000 who crossed the border into Ethiopia. In Borama, Somaliland, approximately 8,000 households (40,000 individuals) were newly displaced in January 2017. Children constitute the majority of the displaced population. The high number of people concentrating around water points increases the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. During the previous drought in 2010-11 the number of underage girls sold into child marriage in exchange for livestock increased as families struggled to survive.
Repeated cycles of climatic shocks, coupled with insufficient recovery periods, have limited household and community coping mechanisms. As a result, drought-impacted households have a higher propensity to deploy harmful coping strategies which may deplete their household assets, both material and human, further limiting their ability to mitigate future shocks and make productive investments which can break the cycle of poverty and humanitarian risk.