The plight of millions of drought-stricken people across the Horn of Africa is set to worsen, with rains expected only later in the year 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 the 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 left for a trip to a drought-hit northern Kenya 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,” added Lake.
The UNICEF chief will tour Turkana, one of Kenya’s badly-affected regions where malnutrition rates have increased to 37 percent, compared to 15 percent in 2010, according to the aid organisation Oxfam.
Kenya is also home to the world’s biggest refugee camp, where hundreds of thousands of Somalis have sought refuge from relentless conflict back home and thousands more are arriving daily due to the current drought.
Relief groups are struggling to cope with the influx and have urged the Kenyan government to ease camp congestion by openning a new camp that has already been constructed.
The camps that are currently operational host 380,000 people, more than four times the initial capacity.
Western countries and other donors have pledged millions of dollars in aid for the drought-stricken population and Lake said more still needs to be done to ease the suffering of the affected people.
UNICEF said last week it needed 31.8 million dollars (22 million euro) for the coming three months to assist millions of affected women and children.
The agency estimates that more than two million children are malnourished across the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa region and are in need of urgent help to survive.
Around 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.