The Horn of Africa is facing its biggest disaster in decades, yet the world is largely silent. Many parts of the region are suffering from two consecutive failed rains, and it has been the driest 12 months in 60 years. The threat of famine – a word barely mentioned even in the droughts of previous years – is now on everyone’s lips. A human catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes.
Refugees coming out of Somalia have had levels of malnutrition which we have rarely seen in this region for over 20 years – up to six times the level the UN considers to be an emergency. In Kenya, where I am based, markets in the north of the country are running out of food and Oxfam has been trucking in supplies of clean water. Over a third of people in the Turkana region of the country are now malnourished.
Imagine life for an ordinary family like Adan’s, a pastoralist in Somalia. This time last year he owned 220 sheep and goats, and his children had a healthy diet of meat, vegetables and milk. Now three quarters of his livestock have starved to death or succumbed to disease. His children haven’t had meat for six months – they usually just eat plain rice. The price of maize and sorghum at the nearest market has risen by up to 400 percent, but the few animals he has left are thin and can fetch only a fraction of their usual price. It is almost impossible for him to look after his family.
There are 11 million people across the region facing a similar fate to Adan. Farmers have lost their crops, and pastoralists have lost their herds. People’s livelihoods have been decimated. Now their lives are also at risk. Over 400 people in Somalia have already died from disease and malnutrition.
The next rains are not until October at the earliest, and families like Adan’s have many more dry months ahead. They are struggling to survive, and they urgently need our help.
Many families have packed up a few belongings and left in search of food and water. Some move to cities, and often end up in slums where the situation is little better. Others head to refugee camps. The Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya is now home to 360,000 people – four times its capacity. It is horrifically overcrowded, yet 20,000 more desperate people have arrived in the past two weeks, fleeing the drought and the years of conflict in Somalia. There is nowhere near enough clean water and healthcare to meet the huge need.
Oxfam is scaling up our response across the region – in the worst hit rural areas and in the cities and camps where people flee to. We are providing families with cash, building water points, buying up weak animals, and conducting health campaigns to stop the spread of fatal diseases. But most urgently of all, food is needed. If people cannot get affordable food then the threat of famine will become all too real.
(This entry blog was published -in its spanish version- in the Blog 3500Millonesof El Pais 01/07/11 as part of my collaboration with that Blog)