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Regional Outlook for the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region: Recommendations for Humanitarian Action and Resilience Response, April-June 2016 [EN/AR]

Originally published



Trend analysis (October 2015 - March 2016)

Since October, the humanitarian situation in the region significantly deteriorated as a result of continuing climactic and economic shocks and an increasing level of conflict. Since October 2015, the number of people in the region suffering from severe (crisis and emergency – IPC Phases 3 & 4) food insecurity and malnutrition has increased from 18.2 million to 19.49 million. The evolving situation in Ethiopia, which has suffered its worst drought in decades, has increased the number of people requiring food assistance in the country from 8.2 million to 10.2 million between October and December 2015.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation is driven for the most part by the global El Niño event which has had a significant impact on parts of Sudan, Djibouti, north Somalia and most notably on northeastern parts of Ethiopia; an upsurge in violence in parts of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi; and economic shocks including the decline of global oil prices and increasing food prices which has exacerbated existing chronic vulnerabilities.

The flooding effects of the El Niño south of the equator were less than anticipated, however they did contribute to a significant increase in outbreaks of waterborne diseases including cholera and other diarrheal diseases.

The worst cholera outbreaks since the 1990s have been reported in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia - 31,000 cases of measles have been reported in Ethiopia alone during 2015. In Burundi, some 1,158,439 malaria cases and 520 deaths have been reported for the period January to mid-February 2016, more than double the same reporting period in 2015. The disease burden for many of these countries serves to further compromise the immune system of people living with HIV, and quicken the progress of opportunistic infections leading to full blown AIDS. Together with sporadic cases of meningitis and unusually high numbers of malaria outbreaks in South Sudan, the increase in communicable and waterborne diseases are also possible indications of the consequences of climate change.

Since October 2015, an additional 420,000 people in the region have been displaced, primarily by conflict and violence, along with natural disasters, including over 62,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries.

In South Sudan, violence, mostly concentrated in the greater Upper Nile region since 2013, has further expanded into new areas – Western Equatoria (Mundri and Yambio), and Western Bahr el Ghazal (around Wau). This growing unrest in parts of South Sudan coupled with heightened food insecurity, has resulted in the flight of some 38,000 people into East and South Darfur since the end of January. Of these, 25,000 arrived in Khor Omer camp in East Darfur, 11, 000 have arrived in DRC, and 7,000 in the volatile Central African Republic - both new host countries. Ethiopia - host to the regions’ largest number of refugees in the region (731,071 as of February 2016) - is itself struggling to deal with an impending humanitarian disaster in the aftermath of El Niño.

In Sudan, a major military campaign displaced more than 100,000 people in Darfur as of mid-January.
Humanitarian access remains restricted in the Darfur region and areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states where a deteriorating food security situation has been reported. Since the beginning of 2016, Al Shabaab has accelerated its offensive in Somalia in the face of stalled operations by international peacekeepers and progovernment forces, and in Burundi political tensions and violence show no signs of abating. As of March 2016, a quarter of a million Burundians are hosted as refugees in DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, and an estimated 85,000 have been internally displaced since the beginning of the crisis in April 2015. There is an increased refugee influx in Uganda from DRC (an average of 200 per day as compared to 20-50 in previous months) as a result of increased militia activity and armed conflict in Eastern DRC. This further threatens the stability of a region that is already struggling with the burden of the existing 3.4 million refugees and 11 million IDPs, who are amongst the most vulnerable within their respective countries. The Yemen crisis is placing greater strain on the region. According to the UNHCR portal some 82,873 people from Yemen have arrived in the region since the conflict began. Of these, the largest number - a total of 34,464 individuals (6% Djiboutian returnees, 37% migrants and 57% Yemenis) – arrived in in Djibouti.

Protection of civilians remains a serious issue in the region. According to OHCHR, over 4,800 people have been arrested and detained in relation to the crisis in Burundi, including human rights defenders and foreign journalists and at least 220 children have been detained and charged with ‘involvement in armed groups’. An alarming 43 percent of children fleeing the Burundi regional crisis are unaccompanied, mainly in Tanzania and Rwanda. In South Sudan, since October, nine schools were attacked and different armed forces and groups throughout the country recruited 315 boys and one girl. In Somalia the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is a grave concern, and remains the highest reported violation from November to January. Forced eviction in Somalia remains a serious concern especially in the Mogadishu IDP settlements. In 2015, some 130,000 persons were forcibly evicted, predominantly from Danyiile and Dharkenley IDP settlements (source: PRMN Database).

Risk analysis outlook (April - June 2016)

1. While the adverse weather effects of El Niño peaked in January 2016 and are expected to wind down by June, the impact on food security, malnutrition and public health is likely to continue throughout 2016. The next three months will be critical for simultaneously increasing preventative action against the cumulative effects of climate and conflict on the region and scaling up a robust response that focuses on preparedness, mitigation and resilience measures. Critical public health, medical, nutrition and water services are currently overstretched, and without support may well be decimated further, resulting in human suffering on an enormous scale.

Record temperatures are expected in the region in 2016, and there is a 50 percent probability that a La Niña event could follow which will further disrupt livelihoods. Previous La Niña events in eastern Africa have resulted in catastrophic droughts. La Niña’s other impacts include heavy rains and flooding in areas previously affected by El Niño-induced droughts. When a strong El Niño in 1997-1998 was followed by a moderate La Niña event in 1998-1999, the drought that followed affected more than 30 million people in the region. La Niña events have often proved to have an even greater overall humanitarian impact, as the preceding El Niño has already eroded coping capacities. Thus there is a very real danger that millions more people will be at risk of hunger and increased malnutrition, disease, water shortages and displacement in late 2016.

As a result of these threats, affected populations may turn to negative coping strategies that places increased risk to life and livelihoods in the mid to long term. This is often evidenced by risky behaviour leading to the transmission of HIV, especially in areas of high burden. At the same time, wetter conditions and excessive rainfall are expected to continue in equatorial East Africa region, including in southern Ethiopia, south central Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The health implications are likely to be severe, especially in countries with fewer capacities to reduce health consequences or where the health infrastructure has been damaged due to flooding.

2. Protracted and new conflicts will increase in complexity and intensity as armed groups take advantage of the dry season to make military advances in the long-standing conflicts of Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan. In many other parts of the region the lean season is expected to hit earlier than usual, exacerbating tensions between nomadic pastoralists moving in search of pasture and sedentary farmers and resulting in inter-communal violence. In Burundi, violence is expected to persist and perhaps widen if meaningful political engagement does not take place. Some 330,000 refugees are expected to be of concern by the end of 2016. Despite the peace agreement in South Sudan, concerns regarding the security situation remain while genuine peace efforts remain out of reach. Similarly, bleak prospects for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, now ongoing for one year, will continue to impact the Horn of Africa region. A packed electoral calendar in 2016 across the region, namely in Djibouti, DRC, Sudan and Somalia, and economic tensions which contributed to Ethiopia’s high fatality number over the reporting period, are likely to further increase violence in the region, trigger additional population displacements and exacerbate humanitarian conditions.

The refugee situation inside South Sudan also remains of concern. According to UNHCR, South Sudan hosts nearly 270,000 refugees as of 29 March 2016, predominantly from Sudan. The Government of Sudan military offensive in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile state is expected to continue at least until June, leading to further displacements and access restrictions. In Somalia, Al Shabaab is expected to seize the momentum of its latest military advances to attack more areas in South Central Somalia and increase its presence and disruption in northern areas ahead of elections. UNHCR projects a further increase of 250,971 people to the number of refugees in 2016 in the region, with the largest numbers expected to arrive in Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia, from South Sudan.

3. An economic downturn as a result of global trends and local factors will hurt the most vulnerable particularly in oil-dependent South Sudan and aid-dependent Burundi. It is expected that oil will remain at its current price, thus eroding 90 percent of the Government of South Sudan’s revenue, greatly affecting government spending, which will in turn adversely impact the population and increase the risk of further violence and insecurity, particularly in Juba. In Burundi, a fall in tax revenue and the suspension of direct financial support for the Government of Burundi by the EU in response to the on-going political crisis there, is already impacting the government’s ability to provide essential services to the population, despite assurances that financial support and humanitarian assistance for the population through UN agencies and NGOs would continue. Ruptures in medical supplies will have disastrous results for over 2 million pregnant women and children under five years of age that rely on critical free health services.

The economies of South Sudan and Burundi have also been adversely affected by currency devaluation and rising inflation. The inflation rate in South Sudan reached an all time high of 202.50 percent in February (the rate averaged 25.51 percent from 2008 until 2015). Cereal prices have reached record highs, increasing by tenfold in the past year, while the cost of water has risen by 500 percent. The increase in the price of water was a contributing factor to the 2015 cholera outbreak in South Sudan. In Burundi, the inflation rate was 6.6 percent in February 2016 up from 4.7 percent before the political crisis started in April 2015. According to FSNWG, the cost of living in South Sudan and Burundi has increased, whilst the purchasing power of the consumer is simaltaneously being eroded. In Djibouti, a heavy reliance on imported food has made the large urban population vulnerable to the rising cost of food. These countries, particularly their urban poor who are likely to experience a continuing decline in their purchasing power, are at risk of increased vulnerability.
In South Sudan, where a greater number of urban poor are at risk, it is estimated that an additional 600,000 people will require support.


The ability of the humanitarian community to meet growing needs continue to be constrained by two factors:

1. Restricted humanitarian access: Increasing access constraints are affecting the ability of humanitarian workers to operate and respond to growing humanitarian needs in the region. Insecurity and bureaucratic impediments imposed on personnel and humanitarian supplies are two major obstacles to effective aid delivery, whilst simultaneously reducing the ability of the people to seek assistance. Diversion of aid and attacks on humanitarian personnel, goods and facilities are the major operational constraints in Somalia and South Sudan, where armed group who are are in control of different parts of the country have proliferated.
For example, in South Sudan, more than fifty checkpoints between Juba and Bentiu are slowing supply movements.

At least 18 humanitarian workers (including contractors) were killed in the region during the reporting period, in Sudan (1), Burundi (2), Somalia (5) and South Sudan (12). This accounts for 35 percent of the total number of humanitarian workers killed at the global level. The upsurge of violence against aid workers in South Sudan is particularly alarming. The recent formation of 28 administrative states, and the enactment of the controversial NGOs bill are expected to further complicate aid deliveries in South Sudan in the coming months. Similarly, in Somalia, administrative impediments have been on the rise and continue to result in delays and interruptions in aid programming mainly in Puntland and south-central Somalia. Securing work permits and visas in the region has become increasingly problematic, and is particularly so in Sudan, where 52 percent of organisations were regularly not able to complete their planned missions by December 2015.

2. Underfunding: Humanitarian requirements for the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa for 2016 have not significantly increased except for in the case of Ethiopia, despite the increased needs of the region.
This reflects efforts to better target assistance by humanitarian actors, who are struggling with increasing operating costs in insecure settings and in countries with failing economies where local currencies are losing their value relative to the appreciating dollar. Despite the fact that funding needs have remained close to their 2015 levels, the Refugee Response Plans for the South Sudan, Burundi, as well as the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for the Yemen crisis are amongst the worst funded response plans of 2016, so far receiving funding of 1.1, 8.9 and 0 percent, respectively to date.

There is no doubt that the Horn of Africa region is competing with funding commitments made by donors in response to crises in the Middle East, namely in Syria and Yemen, adding to the risk that funding for the region remains low. As the world turns its attention to other areas and newer conflicts, it is imperative that this does not come at the expense of providing financial support for situations of protracted conflict. In Burundi, early action could prevent a costly, (both from a human suffering perspective, but also from a donor perspective), humanitarian emergency further down the line. It is particularly crucial that development gains made in the region not be reversed.

Recommended actions

1. Redouble efforts to negotiate humanitarian access and respond to needs, in areas of restricted access: by strengthening systematic inter-agency assessment and monitoring of response gaps and constraints to provide assistance; engaging in continued and coordinated negotiations with national authorities and non-state actors to minimize bureaucratic impediments that prevent quick deployment of humanitarian personnel. The strategic consultations between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and Armed Opposition Groups which began in March in Addis Ababa, could be an opportunity to negotiate sustained humanitarian access in South Kordofan and Blue Nile as well in the Darfur region which has been limited over the last five years. Such a model could be replicated elsewhere in others contexts in the region. In areas of restricted access, humanitarian partners should also continue to build trust and expand cooperation with local partners to increase assistance delivery.

2. Increase advocacy on protection of civilians: the international community should consolidate advocacy efforts and use all diplomatic channels available to urge parties to conflicts in the region to uphold the norms that safeguard humanity and end the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks and sexual violence. Greater use should be made of social media platforms to bring attention to the protection impacts of political crises using reliable evidence and trend analysis. High-level events should be organized around significant dates, such as the 1-year anniversary of the Burundi crisis, and High-Level visits to conflict centres to highlight protection concerns.

3. Prepare for a deterioration of situations in Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia crises by developing regional multi-country contingency plans with aligned scenario planning and analysis to influence early action. This could include anticipating humanitarian access restrictions in Burundi in a worst-case scenario to mobilise stronger efforts to build peace and avert future conflict. A regional protection and gender framework should be developed for the Burundi crisis to harmonise and strengthen protection and gender approaches between the in-country and refugee responses.

4. Mitigate the Effects of El Niño by i) increasing funding to areas where El Niño has had a the greatest impact particularly to assist people facing critical and emergency levels of food insecurity and malnutrition; ii) scale-up an integrated multi-sectoral emergency response and recovery, taking into perspective the need to build households and community resilience.

This includes strengthening the continuum of support from relief food distributions and cash transfers to social safety nets in order to achieve sustain acceptable levels of food security and nutrition among the worst affected communities; water, sanitation and health interventions to address disease outbreaks including through cross border coordination; and enhance the adaptive capacity of the people through the rebuilding of their assets base and ensuring sustainable, diversified livelihood options; iii) scale up targeted resilience interventions in order to maximize the next season crop and animal outcomes (provision of animal fodder and seeds, destocking and plan for recovery activities if the rains fail again; and iv) preparing for a possible La Niña event in the third/fourth quarter of 2016 by enhancing early warning, regular risk analysis and the updating and implementation of national contingency plans for drought and flood response in “hotspot” areas with key emergency preparedness and response partners v) build the capacity of Governments, IGAD, and the AU to coordinate and lead La Nina preparedness activities and El Nino response and recovery activities together with the Eastern Africa Regional Humanitarian Partnership Team (EA RHPT), consistent with the principles of localization and a rights-based approach.

5. Engage in coordinated and high level resource mobilization efforts including through joint and coordinated visits to donor capitals to address priority regional humanitarian needs. Hold a follow up meeting of the EA RHPT in April to discuss options.

6. Concretely engage the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the EU, who have recently launched regional initiatives to tackle protracted and complex humanitarian issues in the region, in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that affirm that tackling conflict, disaster, climate and other risks and enhancing community resilience is central to the development agenda. IGADs initiative to undertake regular joint humanitarian/ development analysis at regional levels through its Programme Coordination Unit should be further supported to ensure humanitarian and development action plans are formed and implemented. Development funding, such as that in Ethiopia, should be further used to strengthen government systems for social protection, food security and basic social services, and to enhance capacities for response to current crises and to strengthen resilience.

7. Increased coordinated engagement with the private sector should also be considered to find innovative ways to collaborate in addressing these challenges. Partnership platforms like the recently launched Humanitarian Private Sector Partnership Platform (HPPP) with support from UNHCR, OCHA and WVI can facilitate increased collaboration.

8. Strengthen collective action in the search of durable solutions in the region to give the millions of displaced persons a chance of a better life with dignity and self-reliance. This should include support to the return process of Somali refugees from Kenya and ensuring that it is voluntary, safe and dignified. Key targeted humanitarian assistance and developmental investments in areas of return have to be initiated and enhanced. This will ensure a realization of an increased absorption capacity in return areas and a sustainable reintegration process within the receiving communities, that mirrors a community-based/ area-based approach benefiting returnees, IDPs and the receiving communities. It is equally critical to support a better understanding of political context and incentive structures within which national refugee and IDPs policies are made to have more evidence in support of local integration and the benefit of displaced people economic empowerment for host communities and countries. The provision of adequate long-term and predictable international political and financial support to countries and communities in the region that host refugees and IDPs is paramount. Promote a three pillar approach in contexts such as Burundi where humanitarian, resilience interventions and macro financial support is required to be scaled up simultaneously in response to increased humanitarian threats in order to (1) deliver targeted new humanitarian interventions to meet new acute needs, (2) adjustments to the regular development programme to prevent those in high chronic need falling into need of humanitarian interventions and (3) an evidenced based overview of policy options for alternative delivery mechanisms for service delivery and macrofinancial support. External advocacy messaging should clearly communicate the balance of support required from each given the global competition for external support to countries.

9. A fundamental shift in the approach to protracted displacement is needed - one that goes beyond meeting humanitarian needs - to one that preserves the dignity and improves the lives and self-reliance of displaced populations and addresses the impact on host communities.

Upcoming High-Level events such as the World Humanitarian Summit roundtable on forced displacement, the various initiatives in Burundi, DRC, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia and the establishment of regional and national coordination mechanisms to address protracted displacement, including through the mobility pillar of the Regional Strategic Framework for the Great Lakes region which was recently launched by the UN Secretary General, provide critical opportunities to take stock of the state of IDPs and refugees in the region and to support joint actions with partners and member states in the search of durable solutions.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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