Article by Matthew Osche
The desert in Northeastern Kenya is dry. Very dry. Sunlight illuminates the miniscule cracks and canyons that have formed across the landscape. The gnarled shell of what used to be a tree juts out of the dirt like a thin and ancient tombstone of the deceased earth. Several paces away from the tree, one can find the remains of some breed of livestock, its identity now unidentifiable, that sought refuge in the tree’s shadow before it succumbed to its thirst. The land is in drought.
Eastern Africa is in the midst of crisis. Drought has been declared in 23 counties throughout Kenya and over 1 million Kenyan citizens are in need of aid. Similar crises are present in the countries surrounding Kenya. The northernmost region of South Sudan is currently in a state of famine as a result of drought coupled with the misallocation of food due to political strife. Approximately 100,000 people are starving there right now.
Similarly, in Ethiopia about 5.6 million people have severe food shortages and close to 6 million people in Somalia are regarded as “food insecure” (the USDA defines this as “a state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year”). Additionally, over 36,000 children in Somalia are poorly nourished and in great need of medical services.
Uganda, which is not currently experiencing drought or food shortages, has also been drawn into the crisis, accommodating over 1 million refugees from South Sudan. The majority of the refugees are women and children fleeing the food crisis as well as government conflict. The United Nations has said that this is the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II.
Sarah, a 20-year-old woman of Somaliland who lives in Fadhigab Camp with her family talks of the struggles that the drought has caused her.
“My daughter starved to death a month ago. She was seven.” Sarah has three more children that she must take care of.
“I have had nothing to eat today. We can only eat whatever our neighbors are kind enough to donate from their rations. I’ve been here for 5 months and there is nowhere else to go” – Sarah
Fatima, a 25-year-old mother of two boys is at the Burao malnutrition center in Somalia to get her sons treatment for sickness invoked by lack of food.
“The children were all seriously sick from malnutrition and I was worried by how skinny they were,” she says.
According to Fatima, 8 people have recently died in her village (which is located 100 kilometers away from the center) because of the drought. Her family used to have 200 sheep and goats. Now they have 5.
The “Food Crisis” in East Africa, as it has been called throughout the media, arose due to the culmination of crop failure, livestock deaths, severe drought, citizen displacement, and various political issues. The problem stems, though, from the drought that plagues the region.
During their winter months, the countries of East Africa do not experience weather comprised of cold temperatures, but experience periods known as “rainy seasons”. The previous 4 rainy seasons have yielded below average rainfall that was not only unusual, but devastating, and, unfortunately for the people of East Africa, the next rainy season is not expected be any better. While there is not unanimity on the topic, many scientists do believe that these consecutive rainfall shortcomings are the result of climate change.
“Somalia is our canary in the coal mine,” said Dr. Chris Funk, researcher with the US Geological Survey. According to Dr. Funk, the average temperatures of East Africa have increased by significant margins in recent years and the rainfall patterns there are quite alarming.
In response to the crisis, there have been vast amounts of humanitarian efforts in the region. Part of the reasoning behind this large response comes from the statistic that over 250,000 Africans died in the East Africa region in 2011 when famine also struck.
Many attribute a large portion of these deaths to the fact that humanitarian services have been slow to mobilize. Despite the humanitarian reaction to the current crisis, services are often difficult to provide as a result of security issues.
During the period of October 2017 to January 2018, 19 service workers were killed in South Sudan. In Somalia, the number of violent acts against humanitarian workers increased drastically from January to October 2017 resulting in 15 deaths from over 130 attacks.
Humanitarian service has managed to accomplish a great deal in spite of the violence. Various nations across the globe have contributed to humanitarian efforts following the UN appeal for $1.5 billion to be donated to efforts in Somalia, although it did fall about $600 million dollars short.
The Red Cross maintains an active presence in East Africa, the organization aids in services such as emergency relief for sanitation, water, shelter, and food as well as sending experts to perform crisis management operations.
World Vision International has made significant contributions to relief efforts by providing 1.4 million people with food and livelihood support, and 647,000 with potable water and sanitation services. They have also provided over 767,000 refugees in Uganda with food/cash assistance, and 56,500 refugee children with education aid.
Unfortunately, the future outlook for East Africa is both uncertain and bleak. Climate scientists expect the trend of low rainfall to continue as 2018 progresses, only deepening the present conflict. Experts also predict that the issue is likely to expand in scope to affect citizens of Yemen, Nigeria, South Somalia, and Sudan. All in all, if the worst predictions of scientists become reality, up to 76 million people would require aid throughout 45 countries by the end of this year, leaving those suffering in East Africa with nothing but the hope that current humanitarian aid will continue to grow with the crisis.
Feature Image: A young boy, Ejiem, sits along side his family’s perished sheep herd in Turkana, Kenya. Image Credit: Jon Warren