Desperate hunger is looming across the Horn of Africa and threatening the lives of millions who are struggling to survive in the face of rising food prices and conflict.
Around 9 million people – many of them women and children – now require humanitarian assistance across Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and parts of Uganda. The World Food Programme is aiming to feed more than 6 million of the most vulnerable, but resources are thin and at the very moment that we should be ramping up operations, we have been scaling back some programmes in Ethiopia and Somalia.
The delivery of emergency food assistance is a vital part of the Horn of Africa Action Plan the humanitarian community developed in 2010 to strengthen the resilience of communities caught up in this creeping disaster, and to protect assets such as farming tools, and livestock that help them to produce food. It is essential that we move quickly to break the destructive cycle of drought and hunger that forces farmers to sell their means of production as part of their survival strategy.
While we work tirelessly to protect the smallholder farmers and pastoralists of the Horn of Africa region, we must also respond to the needs of those who already face a graver plight. Conflict in Somalia continues to force civilians from their homes, and around 10,000 are arriving each week at crowded Kenyan refugee camps. The number of malnourished children receiving supplementary or therapeutic feeding in the camps has already tripled in 2011 – a clear sign of the seriousness of the problem and the need for swift international action across the whole region.
A slowly evolving regional hunger crisis may not have the immediate impact of a mega-emergency like the Haitian earthquake, or Pakistan floods, but the drought and rising malnutrition in the Horn affects more people and its effects are equally devastating.