Courtesy of NPR
Murayo Liban Abdi is classified as an internationally displaced person. She traveled on foot for 18 days in a desperate attempt to reach a camp where she could access basic resources like food. She took her five malnourished children with her and even after reaching the camp, she was forced to bury her 2 year old daughter who passed away due to lack of food and water. Africa has faced a severe humanitarian and famine crisis. Honing in on just one of the World Health Organization regions affected, East Africa is suffering.
Currently, about 13 million people across three African countries face food insecurity, which is the enduring lack of regular access to food. There are three different severities: acute, chronic, and severe. While acute food insecurity is the immediate danger to life, chronic food insecurity refers to an inability to meet minimum food requirements over a long period of time. Severe food insecurity develops when there is a pattern of lack of food access. The three countries discussed suffer from severe food insecurity.
In Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, a severe food insecurity crisis envelops the countries and has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and left many in dire need of support. Furthermore, the number of children struggling with acute malnutrition is predicted to rise in the next few months, said The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The current number of children facing these issues across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya is about 5.5 million. In Somalia alone, an estimated 1.3 million children under 5 years of age are at risk of malnutrition. These figures are expected to worsen, according to UNICEF.
Climate change is the most widespread and indirect contributor to the famine in East Africa. Since industrialization, this region has experienced an increase in extreme weather conditions, including extreme heat, that have made droughts 100 times more likely. As a result, droughts have caused failed harvests and the death of livestock in the area. As a result of rising temperatures, farmlands are scorched to the point of enduring infertility and lack of harvests. Although climate change is the leading indirect cause of the severe East African famine, there are more factors that have directly contributed to the famine’s sustainability.
In Ethiopia and Somalia, political and economic conflicts have prevented humanitarian aid from reaching the populations most affected by the famine. Armed conflict in Somalia has caused an excess of 43,000 deaths in the last year, with at least half that number being children under five. In 2022, the Somalian government declared a state of war against Al-Shabaab—an Al-Qaida affiliated Islamic insurgent group that has sustained a force in Somalia for the past fifteen years. The group has continuously blocked access to humanitarian relief and protested against aid from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other governmental organizations such as MAP International which provides medicine and health supplies to those in need. The group is also an active contributor to deforestation efforts and illegal charcoal trading to further their economic gains.
The Tigray crisis in Ethiopia has led to famine conditions for hundreds of thousands of people. The civil war in Ethiopia has left thousands dead, millions displaced, and pushed famine even further into the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia announced a state of emergency after the tensions escalated and conflict got worse. The United Nations claimed that “a ‘de facto humanitarian aid blockade’ was limiting the ability to access more than 5 million people in Tigray…in need of humanitarian aid.” 400,000 of those blocked faced famine. At this point, the famine is seen as man made and the Ethiopian government rejects claims of aid blocking.
There are other global issues impacting the region as well, including that of the war between Russia and Ukraine. East African countries get most of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine and with war raging across Europe supplies are limited and prices are higher. Due to climate issues, lower quantities of grains are being produced in Africa and they must look elsewhere to import the product, the Black Sea region being the major contributor. The most vulnerable countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for key imports are African. These nations rely on the warring nations for 50% of domestic consumption of grain. A recent increase in inflation means that African nations cannot buy such products and therefore face shortages.
The political, social, economic and environmental issues culminate to create permanent instability and widespread food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. With these conditions sustained, food insecurity and unrest will continue so long as the climate crisis is not addressed, political conflicts increase, and foreign aid continues to lack in efficiency.