The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought of the year as it enters its sixth year without rain. Millions of Somalis, Ethiopians, and Kenyans will struggle to survive as water scarcity becomes the norm.
It is one of the worst droughts on record. The UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is requesting US 137 million to provide life-saving aid to 3.3 million refugees (about the population of Arkansas) and internally displaced people.
Famine has been avoided in Somalia, but many people face food and water shortages, which will inevitably result in massive losses of harvests, livestock, and income.
Inflation is usually high, and when political conflicts arise, the situation for these people worsens.
According to UNHCR data, over 1.7 million people (about twice the population of Delaware) were internally displaced in Ethiopia and Somalia last year because of the drought. More than 180,000 Somali and South Sudanese refugees have also crossed into drought-stricken Kenya and Ethiopia (UNHCR – As the Horn of Africa Drought Enters a Sixth Failed Rainy Season, UNHCR Calls for Urgent Assistance, n.d.).
Nearly 100,000 people (about the seating capacity of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) have arrived in Doolo, a remote area in Ethiopia’s Somali region that has been hard hit by the drought, fleeing conflict in the Laascaanood region of Somalia in recent weeks. Over 287,000 people (about half the population of Wyoming) have been internally displaced in Somalia alone since the beginning of the year due to conflict and drought (UNHCR – As the Horn of Africa Drought Enters a Sixth Failed Rainy Season, UNHCR Calls for Urgent Assistance, n.d.).
During a climate emergency, Somalia is showing little signs of abating, uprooting the lives and livelihoods of millions. Five consecutive below-par rainy seasons, resulting from climate change, have resulted in the longest drought the country has witnessed in more than 40 years. According to the UNHCR-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network (PRMN), the catastrophic drought has displaced more than 1.4 million people since 2021, 1.1 million of whom were displaced over the course of 2022.(THE HORN OF AFRICA DROUGHT SITUATION APPEAL, 2023).
To address the crisis, IGAD has also announced plans to collaborate with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “This prolonged and recurring climate change-induced droughts will exacerbate other existing, mutually exacerbating humanitarian challenges in the region,” said IFRC director Mohammed Mukhier. “We need everyone on board to strengthen food systems, livelihoods, and climate resilience.” (UNHCR, n.d., As the Horn of Africa Drought Enters a Sixth Failed Rainy Season, UNHCR Requests Urgent Assistance).
A Meteorological Perspective through real-time maps
The IGAD Climate prediction (a regional climate centre by the World Meteorological Organization) and application centre (ICPAC) announced on February 22nd that below-normal rainfall is expected, which can lead to drought conditions.
Delegates gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, for the 63rd Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF 63) examined the forecast for the March to May (MAM) 2023 season, which points towards depressed rainfall and high temperatures. In parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda that have been most affected by the recent drought, this could be the 6th failed consecutive rainfall season. (Dry Conditions Highly Likely to Continue over the Horn of Africa during the March to May 2023 Rainfall Season, n.d.)
The March to May season constitutes a vital rainfall season, especially in the equatorial parts of the GHA, where it contributes up to 60% of the total annual rainfall. Dr Guleid Artan, ICPAC Director, explained, “even if the general conditions for the season do not look favourable, people can still take advantage of rainfall. This is why I urge all to consult our weekly and monthly forecasts, which have high predictability”.(Dry Conditions Highly Likely to Continue over the Horn of Africa during the March to May 2023 Rainfall Season, n.d.)
The most recent emergency in the Somali region of Ethiopia has been the arrival in February 2023 of nearly 100,000 people – many of whom are women, children, and vulnerable people – into the Doolo zone, following an escalation of fighting and a deterioration in the security situation in Laascaanood, Sool region of Somaliland.
In 2022, over 113,000 Somalis who had arrived 2022 and in previous years were profiled by the Department of Refugee Services (DRS) and UNHCR to enable them to receive food and other basic assistance. Based on arrival trends in the second half of 2022, over 130,000 new arrivals are expected in 2023. (THE HORN OF AFRICA DROUGHT SITUATION APPEAL, 2023)
The three Dadaab camps do not have adequate space to host newly arrived refugees, forcing many to reside in makeshift shelters along the outskirts of the camps, where clean water and sanitation facilities are either grossly insufficient or non-existent. In November 2022, the Government of Kenya agreed to reopen the Ifo 2 site in Dadaab to host the new arrivals. The Government has also agreed to remodel this site into an integrated settlement like Kalobeyei to provide humanitarian assistance in a sustainable manner to both the refugees and host communities.(THE HORN OF AFRICA DROUGHT SITUATION APPEAL, 2023)
Effects of the Drought: In Maps
Drought in Pictures
Drought Impact on Kenyan Rural Women and the Marginalized Communities
Kenyan President William Ruto is hoping for rain, and he has called for a National Day of Mass Prayer on Sunday in the drought-stricken city of Nakuru, about 100 miles from Nairobi. He urged the nation’s spiritual leaders to dedicate an entire day to prayer in order to alleviate the country’s drought conditions.
“We have elaborate plans for food security as a government; we have seeds, fertilizer, and water harvesting strategies, including dams. We now need God to send rain, “Ruto stated. “I strongly urge people of all faiths to pray for our country.” (Africanews, n.d., Kenya’s Desperate Quest for Rain_ Divine Intervention Required amidst Devastating Drought).
Many meteorologists attribute this to human-caused climate change, which has exacerbated extreme weather conditions.
“It is past time that we began to include climate change as a factor in our development plans,” Evans Mukolwe, former director of the Kenyan and United Nations weather agencies, told The Associated Press. “The current drought, which we warned about several years ago, has broader implications for the region’s social and economic conditions, including peace, security, and political stability.”
Many Kenyan rural women from marginalized communities have suffered. Lucy Toho, from Meru County, is one of them. Toho is from Ntulli village, located near a river that is used to water farms where she and her neighbours used to work.
Toho now breaks rocks at the quarry to create ballast for the buildings as adjoining dry rivers threaten her livelihood.
Toho, who is 65 years old, has nine children to feed and keep in school.
“My children were expelled from school due to a lack of school fees. I was unemployed at the time because farming had become unproductive due to a lack of rainfall. My husband is unable to work due to his advanced age. When I started crushing ballast, I sold enough to fill a lorry.
I sold them in 10kg containers for $0.19 each. I paid a small number of school fees and requested that the teacher give me more time to raise the balance. I continued crushing ballast and was able to pay off the term’s fees arrears. We occasionally go without food, but I am compelled to do this work because we have no other choice, “According to Toho (Kenya’s Desperate Quest for Rain_ Divine Intervention Required amid Devastating Drought Africanews, n.d.).