The combination of drought, climate change and donor fatigue has resulted in a ‘foreseeable’ food crisis in Eastern Africa, leaving millions at risk of famine, an EU official told an event organised by EURACTIV this week.
Four successive droughts had left around 250,000 Somalis living in famine-like conditions, with humanitarian aid agencies warning that without an immediate increase in financial support, the country could be facing a repeat of the 2011 famine, when 250,000 people died, half of them children.
“We led a delegation to Somalia in March, and we could see the writing on the wall that the rainy season would fail,” said Andrea Koulaimah, Director Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and Pacific at the European Commission’s DG ECHO.
“This was not unforeseeable; it has been building for years,” the EU official added, pointing to the impacts of climate change, water shortages, and political instability in the region.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has reported a sharp rise in acute malnutrition admissions at its clinics across Somalia, with one recording a 265% increase in admissions from April to May. Mogadishu, Puntland, the southwest and central Somalia are seeing exceptionally high levels of hunger.
According to the IRC, some seven million people out of Somalia’s 16 million population are at risk of famine.
For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the number of people facing hunger in the Horn of Africa, primarily in Somalia, South Sudan and northern Kenya, due to the drought might rise from 14m to 20m by the end of the year.
Harlem Desir, senior vice president of the International Rescue Committee, said that the crisis resulted from a combination of four consecutive droughts and the effects of climate change.
“This is a crisis that could have been anticipated,” said Desir, adding that responding to it should have a much higher priority for European policymakers.
Aid organisations have blamed donor fatigue for the scale of the food shortages. Earlier this year, donor countries responded to an appeal by the United Nations’ World Food Programme for $21 billion in emergency funding this year by offering $4 billion.
“The war in Ukraine should not be an excuse to say we can not do more; it should be exactly the contrary,” Desir added,
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, several EU countries made cuts to their national development aid budgets, a trend that is likely to continue due to additional costs incurred by governments due to the war in Ukraine.
He added that the drought has resulted in 1.5 million people being internally displaced.
“Good intentions are there, but action is too little, too late,” said Fouzia Mohamed Ali, Operations Director of GREDO, a grass-roots NGO based in the Gargaar region of Somalia. “We are now onto our fifth failed rainy season,” she added.
The EU has mobilised €920m for emergency humanitarian aid in 2022, said Koulaimah, a figure which represents an 80% increase compared to 2020,
“I don’t think that the EU has failed,” she said, “there has been a collective failure to act quickly enough.”
Maria Arena, the Belgian socialist MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s sub-committee on Human Rights, urged the EU to prioritise development and trade deals with African countries that promote food sovereignty.
“In Europe, we are not coherent on this. We support development programmes, but on the other hand, we support business projects that are controversial,” she said, adding that “food sovereignty needs to be prioritised.”
The effects of the drought on food production, which have caused food prices to increase by well over 100% this year, have been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Somalia imported 92% of its grain from Russia and Ukraine prior to the conflict, and high prices and supply disruption have caused a huge drop in imports. Meanwhile, the price of wheat and oil has risen by 300%.
The Commission recently announced a €210 million fund for 15 vulnerable countries to promote food security.