Drought and food crisis in East Africa
In 2017, a complicated set of circumstances, including the cumulative impact of two successive droughts as a result of two climate phenomena – El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole – and in some places a long period of conflict and insecurity left millions at risk of hunger across the region.
There was widespread crop failure and livestock death in the worst affected areas, causing families to sell their few remaining assets, such as livestock, and to leave their homes in search of food and water.
This diminished food production, combined with more systemic issues of long-term failure to invest in agriculture and alternative livelihoods, further exhausted people’s capacity to cope with another shock.
In 2019, 2.2 milion people are at risk of starvation in Somalia and Somaliland1. Climate induced drought in 2018 and 2019 has led to crop failures and loss in livestock, forcing people to flee their homes. Over 60,000 people in the region have been displaced by drought and are in urgent need of support.
Why are women and girls worst affected by famine?
Women and girls are nearly always hit hardest in emergencies, and famine is no exception. Malnutrition, weakened immune systems and the resulting spread of disease put an additional strain on women’s traditional responsibility as care givers.
Fetching water becomes much more physically challenging as mums like Nimo travel further and further afield in their search. As a result, we have seen mothers taking their daughters out of school to help them carry their heavy load.
Displacement, conflict and having to walk longer distances all increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence and sexual assault.
Within the home, women can also often face aggression and domestic violence as the burden to find food and water increases, and results in strained family relationships.
Often, owing to cultural customs, women eat last and least and have access to fewer options to migrate, access aid, information and credit.
ActionAid’s policy manager in Kenya, Ruth Masime, says:
As a result of the drought women and girls face a triple burden in some cases: to survive, care for their families and evade sexual violence in the process. Urgent action is needed to avert severe hunger, sexual violence and community breakdown.”
Supporting struggling mums in Somaliland
In Somaliland, 35-year-old Nimo and her children walked for eight days in search of water. What they found instead was a trail of carcasses: cattle, goats and camels – the backbone of the country’s economy.
“I breastfeed my six-month-old son, but he cannot get enough milk as I don’t have food,” says Nimo.
ActionAid is distributing life-saving food and water to mothers like Nimo, but more support is urgently needed as the situation rapidly worsens.
Famine in Kenya
Chepochemuma, 35, lives in western Kenya.
Flash floods washed away her crops in 2016, and then a drought in 2017 caused a severe food shortage.
Like so many families, she has had to resort to hunting for anything edible she can find in the bush to feed her eight children.
She told us: “I am worried for tomorrow because there is high competition for wild fruits and vegetables.
“If help doesn’t come through any time soon, we might die of hunger.”