East Africa hit by returning drought and famine

The United Nations believes 10 million people are at risk from lack of food and water in the Horn of Africa. Lack of rain has left crops failing and livestock dead.

A large area of East Africa is being affected by drought after the rains failed to come twice in the last year. As a result, the local people are threatened by widespread malnutrition and famine.

This week the United Nations has stepped up its appeal for help, and the UK has pledged £38million in food aid to feed 1.3m people in Ethiopia and treat 329,000 malnourished children and mothers. Major charities like Save the Children are starting a fundraising push.

But the crisis needs a properly co-ordinated international effort, according to Baroness Amos, the UN head of emergency relief, if it is to stop the worst drought in 60 years becoming a humanitarian catastrophe.

Across Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, food prices have risen dramatically because crop failures have led to shortages – in affected areas of Kenya, grain costs 30-80% more than elsewhere. And most of the cattle and sheep are dying.

Refugees from across the region arrive in a steady stream at aid centres inside the Kenyan border: at Dadaab, a camp built to contain 90,000 is now coping with nearly 368,000.

And aid agencies say tens of thousands are migrating to land that is no better than that which they have left: wells have dried up and families are picking their way across barren plots littered with animal carcasses.

Save the Children’s Kenya programme director, Catherine Fitzgibbon, told The Independent: ‘Children have made long journeys in terrifying conditions, often losing their families along the way and arriving at the camps in desperate need of security, healthcare and a normal life.’ Meanwhile, the continuous fighting in Somalia is thwarting UN efforts both to secure international aid and distribute what help is available.

Governments, particularly the USA, don’t want aid or aid money falling into the hands of anyone associated with guerrilla militias fighting in Somalia, so they are refusing to contribute funds.

Forecast bleak

It’s a combination of factors causing the latest crisis in the Horn of Africa, a region that is all too familiar with hunger. The drought has caused food shortages, the price of food is soaring to unaffordable levels anyway, and the fighting in Somalia is hampering both aid efforts and the campaign to raise aid funds from governments.

Behind it is the changing global weather pattern reducing the rains on which local people rely: a new report suggests global warming may reduce rainfall for some years. So the international community will need to come up with a way to cope sooner or later.

You Decide

  1. The British Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, says the UK is an aid 'superpower.' What does he mean by this and is it a good role to play?
  2. How much does the rest of the world hear about Africa? How many positive stories can you think of, alongside the reporting of poverty and strife? It can be anything from football to music to economic development.


  1. Plan some fundraising of your own for the relief effort. Be imaginative – getting exam results sponsored would be good!
  2. A weather pattern called La Nina has been blamed for contributing to the current drought. Research and write about it, with illustrations or maps.

Some People Say...

“Africa's problems will never be solved.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What's the prediction about rains and harvests?
Expert opinion appears divided about the effects of global warming on the region. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there will actually be more rain over East Africa. But new research from the University of California in Santa Barbara argues that rainfall will be insufficient in the next few years.
And what's all this about Somalia complicating matters?
Two things. The US Government won't deal with anyone who is in contact with Al Shabaab, theIslamist militia controlling south and central Somalia. But, in practice, getting aid to those in need makes this likely, so America resists contributing. Also, the ongoing war in Somalia makes it hard – and dangerous – to distribute aid or help those families affected by the drought.

Word Watch

A member of an armed force of fighters not an official, regular army. Guerrilla forces often fight armies using sabotage.
Those dedicated to imposing Islam on others, tending towards a socially conservative form of the religion, marked by a hostility to non-muslims and Western civilisation. Not the same as Islamic, which just means muslim.
The medical term for 'bad nourishment', when the human body is deprived of protein, energy or important vitamins and minerals. Hunger or overeating the wrong foods is to blame.

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