A catastrophic forecast for the Horn of Africa

A person walking across dried earth.
Kheira Osman Yusuf, a farmer in northern Kenya, walks across a dried-up reservoir next to her land.
March 18, 2022

The Horn of Africa is in a drought crisis, threatening food security for millions across the region. Thirteen million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are currently in need of urgent assistance. Projections indicate that more than 25 million people in the region will not have enough to eat by the middle of 2022, making it one of the top three food emergencies in the world.

Statistics show parts of the region are facing their driest conditions and hottest temperatures since satellite record-keeping began 40 years ago. According to a recent report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the drought is a severe manifestation of climate change. Conditions are expected to deteriorate throughout 2022, until the start of the next rainy season in October. “Drought is a cyclical stress in the Horn of Africa,” said Gabrielle Fox, Mercy Corps’ Horn of Africa Drought Response Coordinator. “Through decades of response, actors like Mercy Corps have learned both what types of humanitarian response are most effective and what investments are needed to bolster resilience. We have the necessary knowledge and tools, and a small window of opportunity to avert the most devastating effects of the drought on a large scale.”

Experience in recurrent drought response in the Horn of Africa has shown that early preventative action is vital to avoiding mass loss of life. In 2011, delayed response to the East Africa drought led to the death of up to 260,000 people—half of them were children under five. We saw a different result in the 2016-2017 drought response, where preemptive action and additional funding prevented the worst outcomes. If smart investments are not made rapidly in the coming weeks and months, we will lose the limited time to take action.

Mercy Corps is responding to the drought by protecting lives, income, and livestock in the immediate term while laying the groundwork for long-term resilience by collaborating with communities, government, and the private sector to strengthen local capacities and systems. Our teams in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are providing cash assistance to meet basic needs like food, increasing access to water, and supporting pastoral and agricultural livelihood opportunities.

Mercy Corps has worked in the Horn of Africa since 2004. We have partnered with communities to support economic development, management of natural resources such as water and grazing land, and improved governance and peacebuilding. In the face of the last major drought event in 2016-2017, communities were better able to cope due to support received through our programs. Our current drought response is helping communities to protect lives and livelihoods, while adapting to the changing climate and preparing for the future.

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