Up to 27 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing acute food shortage while a further 20 million are at risk falling into this category if humanitarian assistance is not mobilized in the next few months, a recent report by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) shows.

This comes just days after the United Nations (UN) warned that about 2.1 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity through to December. The assessment by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), which was managed by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), added that an estimated one million children under the age of five were likely to be acutely malnourished through to mid-2020.

According to the submissions IGAD made at its annual disaster Resilience Share Fair meeting in Nairobi, the three key factors driving food insecurity in the region are climate change, conflict, and economic instability.

Of particular concern is the 2019 below-average rain (just like in 2018) linked to climate change with the Executive Secretary of IGAD, Mahboub Maalim, saying that the region is getting hotter and drier. And even though the 2019 short rain (October-December) is forecast to be average to above-average, the positive impact on food security will not be realized until late 2019, the UN report on Somalia added.

Last year, the worst-affected countries in terms of acute food insecurity were Ethiopia (8.1 million), Sudan (6.2 million) and South Sudan (6.1 million). The three countries are all expected to remain among countries facing severe food crisis globally.

In South Sudan, IGAD says 59 percent of the population, or six out of 10 people required urgent assistance to protect livelihoods, reduce food consumption gaps and malnutrition. While in Somalia, 22 percent of the population (or more than one in five people) were acutely food insecure.

Call for cross-border cooperation

Suggesting a solution to the worsening food crisis, Maalim stated that all the countries must work on building regional and cross-border resilience measures. Similarly, delegates at the IGAD meeting urged countries affected in the region to engage in cross-border co-operation which will see food moved from the food-abundant regions to scarcity areas.

This idea of cooperation is also championed under the African Union (AU) Convention on Cross-Border Co-operation. However, the East African reports that none of the six East African Community (EAC) partner states has signed the Niamey Convention which was adopted in June 2014.

Humanitarian assistance needed

According to FSNAU, sustained and large-scale humanitarian assistance through September would prevent more severe outcomes in many areas. While the UN warned that in the absence of humanitarian assistance from October to December, food security is expected to deteriorate.

Back in July, aid agencies warned that the East African region could suffer a repeat of a 2011 famine that killed around 260,000 people unless foreign donors ramp up funds to help drought-hit communities in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia immediately.

“We cannot wait until images of malnourished people and dead animals fill our television screens. We need to act now to avert disaster,” Oxfam’s Regional Director for the Horn of Africa, Lydia Zigomo, said at the time. “Once again it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are bearing the brunt.”

Following the devastating Somalia famine in 2011, donors including the United States, Britain, and the European Commission reacted swiftly to avert a famine when the next drought struck East Africa in 2017. They provided almost 75 percent of the $1.8 billion needed.

But two years on, Oxfam says donors have met just 35 percent of the $2.4 billion needed as local aid agencies in Somalia struggle to support drought-hit communities with limited resources.

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