13 million face hunger as Horn of Africa drought worsens: UN

The region has experienced its driest circumstances since 1981, according to the UN agency, with three consecutive rainy seasons failing.

The drought has ruined crops and caused “unusually” high livestock deaths, pushing rural residents who rely on herding and farming to flee their homes.

Water and grazing land are in short supply, and expectations for below-average rainfall in the coming months only add to the misery, according to Michael Dunford, WFP’s East Africa regional director.

“Harvests are ruined, livestock are dying, and hunger is growing as recurrent droughts affect the Horn of Africa,” he said in a statement.

“The situation requires immediate humanitarian action” to avoid a repeat of a crisis like that of Somalia in 2011, when 250,000 died of hunger during a prolonged drought.

Food aid is being distributed across an arid swathe of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where malnutrition rates are high and some 13 million people are at risk of severe hunger in the first quarter of this year.

Some 5.7 million needed food assistance in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, including half a million malnourished children and mothers.

In Somalia, the number of people classified as seriously hungry is expected to rise from 3.5 million to 4.6 million by May unless urgent interventions are taken.

Another 2.8 million people need assistance in south-eastern and northern Kenya, where a drought emergency was declared in September.

WFP said $327 million was required to respond to immediate needs over the next six months and support pastoral communities to become more resilient against recurring climate shocks.

In 2011, failed rains led to the driest year since 1951 in arid regions of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda.

Experts say extreme weather events are happening with increased frequency and intensity due to climate change — with Africa, which contributes the least to global warming, bearing the brunt.

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