In September this year, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, stated that “Famine will happen in Somalia and we fear that it won’t be the only place either”.
The headline is staggering: Over 36 million people in the Horn of Africa (including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) are currently experiencing persistent and severe drought conditions.
According to UN OCHA, communities are facing the immediate threat of starvation, with 21 million people in crisis, emergency or catastrophe levels (IPC level 3 and above), 4.9 million acutely malnourished children and almost 1 million acutely malnourished pregnant and lactating women2. Furthermore, forecasts predict a below-average fifth consecutive rainy season from October to December this year in parts of these countries2. These figures speak for themselves.
What is the impact of a severe drought?
Acute water and food insecurity, malnutrition and the risk of starvation; livestock loss and crop failure; internal displacement and school dropout; conflict and gender-based violence; and increased prevalence of disease.
The issues outlined above are inter-connected. When livestock suffer and die this is a real problem, particularly in rural communities. Livestock are used for milk production and support arable agricultural practices. As one of All We Can and Y Care International’s Country Coordinator’s commented recently, ‘losing cattle means losing everything’. When a family loses their livestock, such as cattle, it might take them a year or more to replace, especially taking current inflation into account. ‘This will affect the lives of the people for the next ten years or more’.
It is really important to act sooner, rather than later. The situation is only predicted to get worse, not better. We need to act, and quickly.
Can this type of disaster be prevented?
Disasters affect the poorest the most. It is also important to recognise that, with communities in the driving seat, hazards (including drought) do not need to become disasters. Communities must be supported to prevent, mitigate and prepare for, the consequences of drought. A Disaster Risk and Climate Change Adaptation approach needs to be adopted. Examples of this include livelihood diversification, climate-smart agricultural practices such as access to drought-tolerant small grains (seeds), mulching and methods to increase soil moisture retention; post-harvest storage techniques; increased access to credit schemes including Village Savings and Lending Groups (VSAL’s); equitable access to markets, reversing deforestation and environmental rehabilitation. Early Warning Systems are also required to support communities prepare and respond through contingency planning.
Droughts will still occur, but they can be prevented from becoming disasters.
We need to respond to this emergency. We also simultaneously continue to support programmes that break the cycle of poverty and reduce the risk of disasters.
 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths Remarks at Security Council briefing on conflict-induced food insecurity and the risk of famine. 15 September 2022. https://reliefweb.int/report/somalia/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-martin-griffiths-remarks-security-council-briefing-conflict-induced-food-insecurity-and-risk-famine
 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Horn of Africa Drought Regional Humanitarian Overview and Call to Action. 21 September 2022. https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/horn-africa-drought-regional-humanitarian-overview-call-action-revised-21-september-2022