Drought in the Horn of Africa
Drought situation and impact
The ongoing drought is widespread, and the situation is deteriorating faster than even expected. Conditions are extremely worrying across southern and southeastern Ethiopia, northern and coastal Kenya, almost all of Somalia, southeastern South Sudan and northeastern Uganda.
In 2016, as little as one-quarter of expected rainfall was received during the October–December rainfall season across most of the region. The long rains in March–May were already erratic and below average; the recently failed short rains extended the already long dry season, having severe implications for food security, nutrition, livelihoods and peace.
Droughts in the Horn of Africa have been increasing in severity and frequency, and aggravated by desertification, land degradation and climate change. With multiple consecutive years of poor rains, dry spells and drought, including the El Niño-induced drought in 2015/16, there has been little to no recovery among affected households – particularly those dependent on livestock for their food and income. In the Horn’s arid and semi-arid lands, the dominant livelihood systems are agropastoralism and pastoralism, for which pasture and water scarcity is a constant challenge. Pastoralists and agropastoralists are among the most affected by what has become chronic vulnerability to food insecurity, economic and environmental shocks and resource-based conflicts.
In affected areas of the Horn of Africa, water is increasingly scarce and rangelands bare. Rivers and water points are drying faster than normal, and reaching alarmingly low levels. Across the region, livestock are starving and rapidly losing condition. Immune systems are weakened, increasing risk and incidences of opportunistic and endemic livestock disease outbreaks, and increasing the debilitating effects of internal and external parasites. Tens of thousands of animals have already died of disease or starvation, especially affecting cattle and sheep. In many areas, livestock reproduction has halted.
In search of feed and water for their livestock, migration is increasing both within and across national borders. Experts have noted that this year, pastoral migration is random and opportunistic – herders are moving to pocket areas speculated to have grazing availability. Some pastoralists are migrating to protected conservation areas, having negative consequences for environmental gains and increasing risk of disease transmission between wild animals and livestock. Tensions and conflict are increasing due to competition over limited natural resources, overgrazing, damage to the land of settled farmers, livestock theft and disease outbreaks as increasingly weak livestock crowd around fewer water points.
In most-affected areas, there is effectively no demand for livestock, which are rapidly losing value. Prices have plummeted – in cross-border areas, sheep and goats now sell for about one-third the normal price, and cattle and camels fetch only half their normal market value. For example, in Somalia's Buale market, a goat could be traded for about 114 kg of maize in January 2016, but at today's prices can be traded for only 30 kg of grain. Sales of live animals make up the bulk of pastoralists’ earnings; in drought-affected areas, incomes are declining and households are left with extremely limited alternatives.
At the same time, local prices for staple foods have skyrocketed, and are increasing as local availability diminishes. Regional harvests were below-average at the end of 2016, following poor main harvests earlier in the year. For example, grain prices in January doubled compared with last year in central and southern Somalia. In Uganda, maize prices are reaching near-record levels.
Conditions are becoming alarming in drought-affected areas, with more and more families reporting that they are eating less, less often and what they do eat is less nutritionally diverse. Dependence on food aid is increasing. In the Horn of Africa, severe food insecurity has dramatically increased in recent months – doubling in Kenya and Somalia, quadrupling in Uganda and in Ethiopia, the number of food insecure districts has increased by one quarter. In mid-February, the drought was declared a national emergency in Kenya. Famine was declared in South Sudan, and has been alerted as real risk in Somalia if the next rains are below average.
Protein-rich foods are increasingly out of reach for vulnerable pastoralists. Household production of milk and meat is very low, and the local prices of milk and other dairy products is increasing – for example, the price of milk has increased by 40 percent in Somalia's Gedo region. Malnutrition rates among children are high, and are increasing as the lean season continues. Milk is the main source of protein for pastoralists; when it is not available, households typically increase their cereal intake – but with very high staple food prices, households are increasingly forced to sell their productive assets or borrow food and money to survive.
The situation will continue to deteriorate not only until the next rains, but until pastures regenerate if sufficient rainfall is received. Forecasts for the next season from the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum indicate that the next rains may be below-normal in most drought-hit areas – the expected onset of the rains is early to mid-April, and the duration just four to six weeks. If realized, this would mean a third poor season of rainfall for most affected communities, if not more. This would be particularly disastrous in Somalia, where the aversion of famine hinges on good performance of the coming season.