The Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst hunger crises in recent times due to a prolonged drought. The current drought is worse in a number of ways than in 2011, with some areas experiencing the failure of three rains in a row. In Kenya, 2.6 million people are experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity. The number could increase to 3.5 million in need of targeted assistance by August. In parts of Marsabit and Turkana, where communities are unable to reach sustained humanitarian assistance, they are at risk of sliding in to emergency levels of hunger (IPC Phase 4), one step away from famine, between July and September.
The March–May rains have been below average and it is likely that the July food harvests will also be below average, leading to a corresponding decline in access to and consumption of food. In addition, the African armyworm infestation has already affected around 69,000 hectares of farming land, prices of basic food commodities, such as maize, in Kenya have soared with overall inflation for the month of May 2017 reaching a five-year high of 11.7 per cent, and livestock prices in pastoralist areas are low due to the poor condition of animals. As a result people are reducing what they eat, with many families eating one meal a day. Food shortages are further compounded by anxiety around upcoming general elections which may politicize the crisis, a lack of access to water due to non-operational water points, and high levels of severe acute malnutrition among children below the age of five.
A Deteriorating Crisis
Despite the Kenyan government declaring an emergency in February 2017, and calling on the international community for financial assistance, Kenya is still experiencing an 81% gap in funding required for the UN appeal to respond to emergency needs. The crisis has also put pressure on key development sectors, including education; schools in the Arid and Semi Arid Areas (ASALs) are either closed or attendance is plummeting due to a lack of school meals being provided, as well as water shortages. Some schools are also experiencing an influx of displaced people fleeing drought, conflict or floods.
Kenya currently hosts 486,037 refugees and 309,000 IDPs3 , with over 6,500 people recently displaced by floods in coastal areas. UNHCR has identified over 3000 unregistered arrivals in Dadaab camp, many displaced by the drought from Somalia. The physical state of the refugees is likely to be worrying as those heading from Somalia to Ethiopia are displaying critical rates of malnutrition. They live amongst the population without access to humanitarian assistance because they are unregistered, and without immunization, increasing the risk of spreading of communicable diseases.
The drought is exacerbating competition for limited resources such as water. Access to land for farming and grazing is already increasing local tensions and could trigger further inter-communal conflict in parts of Kenya. The migration of thousands of herders with large numbers of cows, goats and sheep in search of water and grazing land also has the potential for further triggering localized conflicts. With some herders carrying arms this could lead to deadly consequences.