Nairobi: Global solidarity is urgently needed to help vulnerable communities in the Horn of Africa survive a rapidly unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, driven by the longest and most severe drought in recent history that is expected to continue well into 2023, according to a joint statement by WHO and several UN and other international agencies.
The statement being put out on Monday said humanitarian and development actors must urgently prepare for the continuation of life-saving assistance in response to extremely high humanitarian needs through to next year. "The Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia drought response plans are only 50 per cent funded despite escalating needs, severely limiting humanitarian agencies' capacities to respond. More funds are required immediately to save lives before it is too late," the statement said.
Already, 20.9 million people are highly food insecure due to the two-year drought, including 3.4 million people in Emergency in Kenya and Somalia and 300,560 people in Catastrophe in Somalia.
In southern Ethiopia, IPC-compatible analyses show widespread Emergency area classifications and indicate that there are likely households in catastrophe. In Somalia, parts of the Bay region are projected to face famine while several other central and southern areas face a "Risk of Famine" by the end of the year.
"Significant increases in severe acute malnutrition admissions to nutrition treatment programmes have been observed across the region. Overall, 7.46 million children under the age of five are estimated to face acute malnutrition, including 1.85 million facing its severe form. Increases in child deaths have also been observed. For example, the recent Somalia Post-Gu assessment found under-five death rates exceeding 2/10,000/day amongst four surveyed population groups."
The statement added about 23.75 million people face daily household water insecurity.
This increases their vulnerability to water-borne diseases, and forces women and children to travel long distances to fetch water, exposing them to heightened risks of violence and exploitation.
The drought impacts on health risks are also significant, and multiple ongoing disease outbreaks, including measles and cholera, for which health outcomes are worse when combined with malnutrition, are major public health concerns. Facing severely limited access to food, water, and other resources, 1.77 million people have fled their homes, becoming internally displaced, and over 40,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the start of 2022.
"The situation is deteriorating due to the poor start of the October - December rains, particularly in Kenya and southern Somalia. From 1 October to 15 November, these areas are expected to receive rainfall totals that are less than 60 per cent of average, with some worst-affected areas, particularly in Kenya, experiencing the poorest start of the season on record. Worryingly, there is a broad consensus across meteorological agencies that the probability of continued below-average rains through the remainder of the season is high, resulting in an unprecedented fifth consecutive poor season," it added.
Regardless of next year's rainfall performance, recovery from a drought of this magnitude will take years, with extremely high humanitarian needs set to persist and even increase in 2023, it said.
Recalling the 2011 drought where 260,000 people had died in Somalia with the majority of deaths occurring before a Famine was declared, the statement said the world should not allow a repeat of what occurred in 2011.
"Given rising death rates in many areas, the size of the affected population, and the likely duration of the crisis, the cumulative levels of excess mortality could become as high as in 2011. We cannot-and must not-wait for a Famine (IPC Phase 5) to be declared, or for additional rainy seasons to fail, to act," the statement said in conclusion.