Somalia is one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, with deaths being reported in some areas amid alarming malnutrition levels.
"We are no longer on the verge of a humanitarian disaster; we are in the middle of it now. It is happening and no one is helping," according to Isaq Ahmed, the chairman of the Mubarak Relief and Development Organization (MURDO), a local NGO working in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia.
He said: "In the three districts of Qoryoley, Kurtunwarey and Sablale [in Lower Shabelle] our estimate is that some 5,000 families [30,000 people] have been seriously affected by the current drought."
Ahmed said those who can are moving towards Mogadishu in hope of survival.
"Those remaining in the area are the ones who cannot even afford transport to Mogadishu," he said, adding that a number of people had died due to a combination of hunger and related diseases. “Most of those who died were children, the elderly, and lactating and pregnant mothers," he said.
Up to eight people a day were being buried in Lower Shabelle, according to Sultan Sayidali Hassanow Aliyow Ibirow, a senior traditional elder in Lower Shabelle. Most of them were cattle herders who had lost everything.
"Three years of little or no rain have led to this disaster. People have not recovered from their previous losses and now we have an even worse drought," he said.
The BBC reported today that The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says more than 110,000 Somalis have arrived at the remote camps at Dolo Ado in south-eastern Ethiopia.
The camps are already severely overcrowded, but another 1,600 people are arriving every day.
They are weak with hunger, having walked for days with malnourished children to cross from Somalia.
But the WFP's Judith Schuler says many are too weak or too poor to make the journey.
Some 12 million people need food aid after rains failed for the second year running across the Horn of Africa.
I worked for the Red Cross (IFRC) during the devasting droughts and famines in 1974 and again in 1978-79 in Ethiopia and Somalia and it was such a heart-wrenching experience to see so many people dying due to the famine. We were able to get food to the Red Sea ports but getting food up to over 12,000 feet by donkey or on human backs was a huge logistical struggle. Today with better transportation I really hope and pray that food, shelter, water and medical support will reach all those camps today in sufficient quantities. See article I wrote in:1979
Driest season since 1950
In many pastoral zones, this is the driest season on record since 1950. Drought conditions in Somalia have had regional implications, with refugees flowing into Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The irony is that these three countries in particular are also suffering from drought and food shortages and struggling to keep their own populations free from hunger.
According to Save the Children, children arriving from Somalia in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya are exhausted, malnourished and severely dehydrated.
"Nearly every child or parent we have spoken to says they are not just fleeing fighting in Somalia - the drought and food crisis are equally perilous to them now,” said Catherine Fitzgibbon, Save the Children's Kenya programme director.
Experts are warning that the situation could get worse in the short term if the delayed and poor rains cause the current crop to fail.
In Ethiopia, the estimated number of people in need of emergency food and non-food assistance was revised upwards from 2.8 million to 3.2 million. Nearly two thirds of the requirements were in the southern Somali and Oromia regions as well as in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, where shortages of water and food were recorded. And if drought were not bad enough, cereal prices have continued to rise, with inflation rates close to 30 percent recorded in April.
According to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, a regional forum, the rate of Somali refugees arriving in southern Ethiopia has jumped from 5,000 per month to more than 30,000 in the second week of June. Among new arrivals to the two camps in the Dolo Ado area, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate is 45 percent, way beyond the 15 percent emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.
In Djibouti, poor rains from March to May of this year hurt pastoral household food security and sent food prices shooting up. The average price of wheat flour increased by 17 percent between January and February 2011, to US$620 per ton, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Information and Early Warning System, GIEWS.
Rising Prices and Falling Currency in Kenya
In Kenya, rising inflation rates have also adversely affected poor households’ ability to buy food. Prices of the main staple, maize, have tripled from about 1,300 shillings (US$14.4) in January to 4,500 ($50) for a 90kg bag.
Recently, the government announced the removal of tax on imported maize in a bid to cushion consumers. But millers say rising global maize prices mean the measure will have little impact on the commodity's prices locally. (Noor Guhad stands in the middle of the dry Oda earth dam, where water would have reached over his head three years ago. Now he has to dig deep to find water. Photo courtesy of www.ifrc.org)
"The problem has been compounded by the fact that the Kenyan shilling has been on a free-fall, trading at an all-time low [about 90 shillings to the US dollar] not experienced in the country for almost two decades. I do not see the cost of maize dropping any time soon," said one local miller.
The recent March to May “long rains” in Kenya were poor for the second or third successive season in most rangelands and cropping lowlands, with many of these areas receiving 10-50 percent of normal rains, noted the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).
The consequences include declining water and pasture, and subsequent livestock deaths. In the predominantly pastoralist north, a low milk supply has contributed to malnutrition levels soaring above 35 percent. The GAM rate in northwestern Turkana has hit 37.4 percent, the highest ever in the district.
Nationally, at least 3.2 million people are currently food insecure - up from a projection of 2.4 and 1.6 million in April and January, respectively.
Even in Kenya’s coastal region, thousands are food insecure, says the Kenya Red Cross Society’s (KRCS) region manager, Gerald Bombe, who oversees a Drought Response operation run jointly with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (Thanks to Paul Conneally for using part of his article)