Poor rains across East Africa have worsened hunger and left crops scorched, pastures dry and thousands of livestock dead, the United Nations food and agriculture agency has warned. The most affected areas, which received less than half of their normal seasonal rainfall, are central and southern Somalia, South-Eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, northern Tanzania and north-eastern and South-Western Uganda. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the five aforementioned countries, currently estimated at about 16 million, has increased by about 30 per cent since late 2016. In Somalia, almost half of the total population is food insecure, the UN specialised body reported.
The third consecutive failed rainy season has seriously eroded families’ resilience, and urgent and effective livelihood support is required. Timely humanitarian assistance has averted famine so far but must be sustained. Conditions across the region are expected to further deteriorate in the coming months with the onset of the dry season and an anticipated early start of the lean season, it added.
FAO’s Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon said, “Support is needed now before the situation rapidly deteriorates further.” In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where animal mortality rates are high and milk production from the surviving animals has declined sharply with negative consequences on food security and nutrition. “When we know how critical milk is for the healthy development of children aged under five, and the irreversible damage its lack can create, it is evident that supporting pastoralists going through this drought is essential,” said Burgeon.
Fall armyworm, which has caused extensive damage to maize crops in southern Africa, has spread to the east and has worsened the situation. In Kenya, the pest has so far affected about 200 000 hectares of crops, and in Uganda more than half the country’s 111 districts are affected.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said, “We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure.”