As the worst drought in 60 years continues to devastate the Horn of Africa, millions of people in parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Djibouti are at risk. In a region where a large percentage of the population already lives in chronic poverty, this prolonged and unrelenting natural disaster has plunged areas with already alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition into a state of emergency. According to the United Nations, 11 million people throughout the region are in need of life-saving assistance, and child malnutrition rates in some areas are hovering around 30 percent. Drought conditions along with high food prices and ongoing conflict in Somalia have combined to form a situation that is dire, but not irreversible.
Governments and humanitarian organizations have received substantial donations from the international community, and the World Food Programme has mobilized aid workers and resources to deliver food and water to at least 6 million people to date. This immediate response should be scaled up and augmented with access to clean drinking water and medical services to curtail the crisis; governments, donors, and relief workers are being urged to accelerate aid efforts. In a region where drought is endemic and smallholder agriculture and pastoralism are primary sources of income, problems of food scarcity, lost livelihoods and assets, and the perpetual threat of similar future crises need attention as well. The following urgent actions have to be initiated now to help people in the Horn of Africa cope with the current situation and prevent future drought-induced food crises in the short, medium, and long term.
- Scale up food and water aid, specifically targeting the most vulnerable people.
- Protect the remaining assets of the poor—such as livestock, labor, tools, and land—through social safety nets and insurance products that can help mitigate financial, agricultural, and health risks.
- Keep international and cross-border trade open. Do not introduce export bans within the region; while such bans may help secure the domestic food supply, they can also lead to starvation in neighboring countries, which will exacerbate the crisis.
- Accelerate the establishment of regional food reserves for humanitarian purposes.
- Build the resilience of smallholder farmers and pastoralist communities by ensuring their access to risk-management tools (including insurance and credit), drought-resistant seeds, high-quality fertilizer, irrigation techniques, livestock-related assistance, and the technology and support to put the above to best use.
On behalf of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), I would like to express both my sympathy to those who are suffering in the Horn of Africa and my commitment to seeing the damage from this crisis reversed. As part of its vision for a world free of hunger and malnutrition, IFPRI has conducted research on a range of topics—including responses to natural disasters and political conflict, social protection services, and smallholder productivity, among others—that we hope can provide insight into the options available to policymakers and other stakeholders during this time of need. While the current levels of hunger and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa are grave, swift action can prevent them from spiraling into the unnecessary tragedy of widespread famine.