, LODWAR, Kenya, Jul 17 – The plight of millions of people left hungry by a harsh drought across the Horn of Africa is set to worsen, with the rains not expected soon and harvests months away, a top UN official warned Saturday.
Scanty or failed rainfall in the region over the past two years has already forced thousands of Somalis to flee their country and ruined the livelihoods of millions in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
“We are possibly seeing a perfect storm in the coming months…. We are going to do everything we can to ameliorate it,” UNICEF director Anthony Lake told AFP as he visited Kenya’s drought-hit Turkana region.
“We are scaling up in every way we can…. It is very bad now. There will be no major harvests until some time next year. The next six months are going to be very tough,” he added.
Turkana is one of Kenya’s badly affected regions where malnutrition rates have risen to 37 percent, up from 15 percent in 2010, according to the aid organisation Oxfam.
The drought has also wiped out almost all the cattle, the mainstay of Turkana people, with the remaining emaciated animals driven elsewhere in search of pasture.
“The animals have all died. I am old, I cannot go to town to find work, I cannot fish, so I am just waiting,” said 70-year-old Loruman Lobuin, sitting under a tree, his skinny body partly exposed under his traditional shawl.
A nurse in Lodwar, Turkana’s main town, said the number of children admitted suffering malnutrition had doubled since last year.
“Many children arrive already malnourished and weak and some are irritable, but they are the lucky ones who make it here.”
Lake noted that the drought was not only endangering lives, but “a way of life is being threatened also,” referring to the nomadic tradition of the Turkana people.
“I have seen heart-wrenching things and oddly enough, admirable things. I cannot admire enough people living under circumstances like these,” said the UNICEF chief after visiting Turkana villages.
Western countries and other donors have pledged millions of dollars in aid for the drought victims but Lake said more still needed to be done.
Britain promised 52 million pounds (59 million euro, 73 million dollars) in emergency aid, in a statement Saturday from International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
“The situation is getting worse and is particularly devastating in Somalia, where families already have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world,” Mitchell said.
He called for doing “more to help not only refugees but also those victims of the drought who remain in Somalia.”
UNICEF said last week it needed 31.8 million dollars for the coming three months to assist millions of affected women and children.
It estimates that more than two million children in the region are malnourished and need urgent help, while some 500,000 of them face imminent, life-threatening conditions.
Experts have called for long-term measures to deal with the effects of recurring drought, arguing that the resultant human suffering can be avoided.
“Although governments and their development partners cannot make the rains come, they can mitigate the impact of these recurring droughts in East Africa,” Kevin Cleaver of the International Fund for Agricultural Development said this week.
He argued that governments and donors should invest more in agricultural research to develop drought resistant crops and fodder for livestock.
The regions in the Horn of Africa often affected by cyclical drought have also been neglected by governments, with no electricity, roads, water and other basic health and education facilities.
These arid regions, many of them far removed from capitals, have also seen frequent inter-clan clashes over scarce resources as well insurgencies.