East African crisis: Cold feet from the West and an unrelenting weather

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Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti … East Africa is currently experiencing a severe drought that is threatening, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 20 million people. And although Western countries have pledged emergency relief to the affected populations, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has still not received the necessary funds to address the situation. Meanwhile, another El Niño that looms in the horizon could turn this damaging drought situation into equally ruinous floods.

The famine that is currently affecting the continent has raised serious concerns among NGOs, international bodies and governments. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last week that a total of 20 million people dependent on international aid in the region was likely to increase. Compared to an estimated 11 million people who fell victim to a similar food crisis in 2006, the number of affected persons has almost doubled. The worst, it seems, is yet to come as the total number of persons affected, according to figures gathered by NGO’s per country, snowballs.

Low harvest

Somalia has been particularly affected by the worst food crisis since 1991. According to F.A.O., some 3.6 million Somalis, i.e., half of the population, are suffering from famine, while Oxfam has also reported that more than one in six Somali children suffer from malnutrition. Families are sometimes forced to journey on foot for days on end to the northern parts of the country in search of water. This situation could raise the risk of conflict in an already war torn country. The country’s 1.3 million internally displaced persons, according to F.A.O. figures, are particularly affected by the food crisis.

About a quarter of the Kenyan population, i.e., 10 million people, are also close to starvation. The 2008 post-election violence forced a number of peasants to flee their farms, CARE has indicated, adversely impacting the agricultural sector. The price of corn has doubled since 2007, in both Kenya and Uganda, despite lower prices in other parts of the continent in recent months.

In Uganda, 2 million people depend on international aid (7% of the population). For the fourth time in a row, the last harvest was inferior to the national average. In the northern parts of the country, half of the crop production has been lost. After intense appeals for donations by the government to address the crisis, only half of the expected sum has so far been received. Oxfam has also estimated the number of people affected by famine in Ethiopia at about 13.7 million (about 16% of the population) and up to 75% of livestock has been decimated in certain regions.

The NGO has also reported that 160 000 people in north-eastern Tanzania and 88 000 in southern Sudan are affected. Djibouti and Eritrea are believed to have been affected by the drought and famine, unfortunately there are no figures to back this fact.

Cold feet

Although Canada and Norway have released emergency aid amounting to 30 and 50 million dollars, respectively, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) announced September 16 that they lacked some $ 3 billion in their budget, out of which 977 million would be directed towards the crisis in East Africa. Western countries have indeed developed a case of cold feet, despite the relative urgency.

The wave of drought that has hit the eastern African countries comes at a time when the western parts of the continent are still recovering from a series of devastating floods. For the east though, the harsh climatic conditions are not yet over as rains forecasted towards the end of the year is, ironically, expected bring more bad news due to the El Niño phenomenon, which could again wreck significant damage to crops, livestock and humans.

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