"Milk production is practically non-existent and staple food prices are exceptionally high, further decreasing pastoralists' already low food access following recurrent years of drought," the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) said in its latest update on Djibouti released on 5 June.
A recent influx into Djibouti of people fleeing strife in Somalia is expected to further deplete the meagre humanitarian resources available, according to FEWS Net.
The March to May short rains in inland Djibouti began six weeks late, and the rainfall in mid-April was poor. The rains normally provide an important respite from the October to February dry season, especially in the northwest and southeast border pastoral livelihood zones, FEWS Net said.
Because of the prolonged dry spell, pasture and water availability are below normal and livestock are showing extreme signs of distress and milk production has plummeted to below normal levels.
Poor urban residents, whose food access had been severely limited by high prices, have started to feel the effect of water shortages, particularly in Djibouti City and Dikhil. The shortages are likely to aggravate the already poor state of child health and nutrition, according to FEWS Net.
Malnutrition among children younger than five is widespread in Djibouti, where a survey in 2006 showed malnutrition rates well above the emergency threshold, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The 2006 Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey attributed the poor nutritional status of Djibouti infants and children mainly to frequent droughts, high unemployment and food prices beyond the means of most poor people in urban and rural areas.
One of the most striking findings was that the global acute malnutrition rate had risen to 20.4 percent against 17.9 percent in 2002, and severe acute malnutrition was 7.1 percent, against 5.9 percent in 2002. The UN World Health Organization considers a global acute malnutrition rate of 15 percent critical.
The effects of the inadequate rainfall are expected to continue at least until the end of July, when the long rains normally begin. The pastoralists' ability to recover from shocks has been severely weakened over the past decade due to recurrent droughts, smaller herd sizes, chronically high rates of malnutrition and limited trade options, the FEWS Net report said.