Fifty million people don’t have enough to eat in East Africa

Countries in the greater Horn of Africa region face a dire food security and health outlook

At a feeding centre in Kismayo, some 530 kilometres from the Somali capital Mogadishu, mothers chatted with the nurses while they awaited their turn, having travelled long distances so their children could eat. 

Elsewhere in the city, at the General Hospital, I met a young mother who was admitted to the cholera treatment centre with her malnourished child. Being with her sick baby meant she could not be at home looking after her other children. 

These are the faces behind the numbers in the Horn of Africa, where tens of millions are going hungry. 

In Somalia, five successive seasons of below-normal rain in the past three years have resulted in the worst drought on record. Thankfully, scaled-up humanitarian assistance and generous support from donors averted famine. 

But the emergency is far from over and food insecurity is projected to affect nearly half the country’s population in the coming months, leading to disease and death; in 2022, the drought caused an estimated 43,000 excess deaths in Somalia.

The World Health Organisation has been working with the Ministry of Health in Somalia and other partners to run vaccination campaigns, deploying over 2,000 community health workers and 160 outreach teams that reached over seven million people. This has helped improve the situation with many children being referred to centres that specialise in treating severe malnutrition with medical complications. 

But while this year’s March-May rainy season brought relief to many areas, the impact of the drought remains, made worse by flooding that so far has displaced over 220,000 people in Somalia, increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. 

Drought in Somaliland
Drought in Somaliland CREDIT: Eddie Mulholland

Climate change has altered weather patterns and extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe, with their impact on vulnerable communities being aggravated by high food prices and conflict in some areas. 

As a result, countries in the greater Horn of Africa region – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – face a dire food security and health outlook. Some 53 million people don’t have enough to eat. This is a significant increase from this time last year when 37 million people were food insecure. 

The region is battling multiple outbreaks of diseases, including cholera, measles, meningitis, malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis E and anthrax. Flooding is likely to make the situation worse. 

Children, pregnant women and the displaced are the hardest hit. This year, a record 11.9 million children under the age of five are likely to face acute malnutrition. Displacement, already at record levels, is increasing the risk of disease. 

The region hosts over 16 million refugees and internally displaced persons, mostly victims of conflict. Such large-scale displacement is usually accompanied by a deterioration in hygiene and sanitation and reduced access to health services.  

We’ve seen that with well-funded concerted action it was possible to avert famine in Somalia and nurse sick people, including acutely malnourished children, back to health. 

But to date, only a tiny fraction of our $178 million appeal for the greater Horn of Africa emergency has been funded and resources are running out. Without further funds, we risk reversing the gains made, with millions more people becoming vulnerable to hunger, disease and death. The global community must not let this happen.

Source: The Telegraph