Hunger Threat Widens, Deepens In Horn Of Africa

Millions of people in the Horn of Africa face a deadly mix of persistent drought, poor seasonal rains, conflict and stubbornly high food costs. At the same time, the global financial crisis is threatening to exacerbate levels of hunger and desperation across the region.

ROME -- “We are knocking on the door of a major regional crisis,” said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. “The situation is not getting better – if anything, we’re seeing it get worse. We must all redouble our efforts to protect and assist the weakest.”

Causes of the crisis

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Wanja Kaaria, a Kenyan who works for WFP, explains the causes of the crisis in her region. 

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WFP is currently providing food assistance to 17 million people in the Horn of Africa region. But funding for many of its operations is low at a time when the numbers of hungry people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, northern Uganda and Djibouti are expected to rise.

Selling off assets

Humanitarian assistance is vital for people who are struggling to survive as they sell off assets in a bid to survive the successive years of drought and conflict, combined with the high price of food on local markets.

crowd of beneficiaries sitting together on the ground in a refugee camp“Millions of people across the region are seeing their lives spiral steadily downwards as this frightening confluence of factors - all beyond their control - pushes them closer to destitution,” said Lopes da Silva.

Seasonal rains in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been weak and erratic. In Ethiopia, only 50 to 70 percent of land planned for planting was sown by mid-April as farmers awaited the rains. The picture is little different in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, and in Somalia cattle are already reported to be dying in large numbers.   

Prices remain high

Food prices remain unusually high in many parts of the Horn, stretching family resources to breaking point. Although prices have come down in some places, cereal prices in some parts of Somalia at the start of the year were still up to eight times above normal levels. In Kenya, maize prices in March were 43 percent higher than last year. 

Remittances to the region – a vital support system for many – have also fallen, in large part due to the global financial crisis.