Large parts of Turkana in northern Kenya, virtually the whole of Somaliland, and the Central Highlands and the Ogaden of Ethiopia have received less than five per cent of normal rainfall in November*. In parts of Turkana there has been just 12mm of rain in the last three months. Many parts of the northern Somaliland region have had less than 2mm of rain in the past six weeks. This is the sixth successive season of poor rains in Somalia, which is experiencing its worst drought in 20 years.
The next rains are not due until April 2010 in most of the driest locations. Millions of people in these areas are of particular concern as they face at least another six months of hunger and destitution. Other areas of East Africa have had some favourable rains in October but aid is still desperately needed.
"The rains were many people's last hope but they have failed again," said Jeremy Loveless, Oxfam's Deputy Humanitarian Director, who has just visited Somaliland. "While some parts of the region have had some rain in October, others have not received a drop."
Malnutrition rates are spiralling as a result of the prolonged drought. In Turkana, one of the worst affected areas, nearly one in three people are now malnourished. There and in the Ngorongoro region of northern Tanzania, there has been a serious spike in malnutrition among children under five years old. One clinic in Tanzania has reported a 400 per cent increase in cases since August. In Somalia, one in five children have been left suffering from malnutrition. A fatal outbreak of cholera has been reported in Kenya, with over 120 deaths in the past month, including many women and children.
Over 1.5 million animals have died in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with an estimated net worth to the region of nearly £220 million. In Ngorongoro, communities report that 70 per cent of all their cattle have died and one in ten families have lost all their animals. People are so desperate that they are selling their few remaining cattle for as little as $4 each - down from the normal price of $200 and only just enough money to buy a family five days' supply of maize. Deadly animal diseases including pneumonia have been recorded in Ethiopia.
The crisis is most severe in parts of Somalia, where worsening conflict and the drought has left 3.6 million people - a third of the country's population - in need of aid. In Somaliland, herders say they have lost 70-80 per cent of their animals. Some initial rainfall in early October brought signs of hope, but after only a few weeks the rain stopped again in many of the driest and most vulnerable areas.
In northern and north-eastern Uganda, 1.4 million people are now urgently in need of aid. The Karamoja region is particularly badly affected, where there has been virtually no rain and the main harvest has produced less than half the usual amount of food. Food stocks are expected to run out by January, and the price of staple foods has doubled. In Tanzania, the number of people in need of aid has now leaped from 279,000 earlier this year to over 1.5 million people.
In parts of north-western Kenya, the rains have stopped completely in the past month. Nationwide, over 500,000 animals are estimated to have died in the drought, at a cost of over £160 million to the local economy. Many people are now voting with their feet and migrating to towns and cities in search of work and food. However, many people are no better off in urban areas, where high unemployment and rising costs mean hundreds of thousands of people struggle to find even one reasonable meal a day.
Ethiopia is one of the worst affected countries, with nearly 5 million people in need of urgent aid. In parts of the south and north-east, initially promising rains have stopped abruptly, with the little pasture and shrubs generated by the rain now close to drying up, and the current harvest expected to be well below normal.
"In many areas this is the fourth, fifth or sixth season of poor rains in a row. More must be done to invest in helping these communities cope with the dry years - through long term rural development and investing in national agriculture. But in the short-term lives are at stake and emergency aid is needed now," said Loveless.
* see map of November rainfall from USGS. Click here: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/emergencies/downloads/eastafrica_map.pdf
Notes to editors
New film footage from drought-affected regions of Somaliland is available to broadcasters
Oxfam recently launched an emergency appeal for funding to help the poorest communities affected by the crisis. For more information visit http://www.oxfam.org.uk
For more information contact:
UK: Rebecca Wynn: +44 1865 472530; +44 7769 887139 firstname.lastname@example.org;
Ian Bray: +44 1865 472289, +44 7721 461 339 email@example.com