NAIROBI – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is expanding assistance in the Horn of Africa as levels of hunger soar after back-to-back droughts and the threat of famine looms. Since the start of the year, 9 million more people have slipped into severe hunger across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – leaving 22 million people struggling to find enough food to eat.

U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley on Thursday wrapped up a visit to drought-ravaged Somalia, where over 7 million people (close to half the population) are severely hungry and 213,000 are already facing famine-like conditions. Beasley visited the southern city of Baardheere and met families, including malnourished children and their mothers, who have been forced to leave their homes and travel long distances through conflict-wracked areas in search of humanitarian assistance.

“People here have been waiting years for rain – but they cannot wait any longer for lifesaving food assistance. The world needs to act now to protect the most vulnerable communities from the threat of widespread famine in the Horn of Africa,” said Beasley. “There is still no end in sight to this drought crisis, so we must get the resources needed to save lives and stop people plunging into catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation.”

The U.N. World Food Programme is tripling the number of people reached with lifesaving food assistance in the Baardheere area, which hosts tens of thousands of people driven from their homes by drought and conflict.

Across the Horn of Africa, the drought is expected to continue in coming months with a fifth poor rainy season forecast later this year. The U.N. World Food Programme has focused available funds, including critical emergency funding from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, on scaling up lifesaving assistance in areas worst hit by the drought. The U.N. World Food Programme is targeting 8.5 million people across the Horn of Africa, up from 6.3 million at the start of the year.

Across the three drought-affected countries, the U.N. World Food Programme is providing food and cash assistance to families and distributing fortified foods to women and young children to treat spiraling rates of malnutrition and prevent more people among some of the most vulnerable communities slipping closer towards famine. U.N. World Food Programme cash grants and insurance schemes are also helping families to buy food to keep livestock alive or to compensate them when their animals die.

At the start of the year, the U.N. World Food Programme warned that 13 million people in the Horn of Africa were facing severe hunger due to the drought. By mid-year, with the fourth consecutive failure of rains, that number increased to 20 million. Now, the number is projected to rise again to at least 22 million by September. This number will continue to climb, and the severity of hunger will deepen if the next rainy season (October to December) fails and the most people do not receive humanitarian relief. Needs will remain high into 2023 and famine is now a serious risk, particularly in Somalia.

Across the Horn of Africa, livestock are dying and there are acute shortages of water and food. So far 1.1 million people have been forced from their homes by the drought, ending up in crowded camps where the humanitarian community is struggling to keep pace with the demand for food, shelter, and healthcare.

During the 2016/17 drought in the Horn of Africa, catastrophe was avoided through early action. Humanitarian assistance was scaled up before there was widespread hunger, saving lives and averting a devastating famine. The U.N. World Food Programme is doing everything possible to support those most in need, but with no end in sight to this drought, some $418 million is urgently needed over the next six months to meet these increasing needs.

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In Ethiopia, the U.N. World Food Programme aims to provide food and cash relief assistance to 3.3 million people in the drought-hit Somali Region (59% of the population) but is currently only able to reach 2.4 million due to funding shortages. The U.N. World Food Programme’s malnutrition treatment programs are targeting almost 850,000 women and children in drought-affected areas. The U.N. World Food Programme’s first humanitarian shipment of grain from Ukraine is on route to Ethiopia, where it will go towards feeding 1.53 million people for a month.

In Kenya, the U.N. World Food Programme is rapidly scaling up to reach 535,000 drought-affected people by the end of August – up from 108,000 reached in the first half of 2022. The U.N. World Food Programme is also expanding its malnutrition treatment programs to reach 210,000 malnourished children and 105,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women in 15 drought-affected counties – up from 8 counties.

In Somalia, the U.N. World Food Programme is continuing to scale up emergency food support to reach 4.5 million people in the coming months. In July, the U.N. World Food Programme reached a record 3.7 million people with lifesaving food assistance, the highest ever reached in a single month, and a significant increase from 1.7 million people supported in April. The U.N. World Food Programme has also nearly doubled targets for its malnutrition treatment program, aiming to provide 444,000 young children and mothers with nutrition support.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

 

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NAIROBI – The dire socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may more than double the number of hungry people in East Africa and the Horn over the next three months, a report from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has found.

The most vulnerable and at risk are poor urban communities living hand-to-mouth in informal settlements, and millions of refugees located in densely populated camps across the region.

An estimated 20 million people already faced acute food insecurity in nine countries before COVID-19 arrived in East Africa and the Horn, with numerous food crises, a massive outbreak of desert locusts and extensive flooding threatening millions across the region, which includes Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea.

WFP projects that the number of acutely food insecure people is likely to increase to between 34 and 43 million from May through July due to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. If the number of hungry reaches 43 million, it would have more than doubled. Among the hungry may be 3.3 million refugees spread across the nine countries.

“A shortage of funding already means most refugees in the region are not receiving all the food they need, and they could face further cuts as scarce resources become even more over-stretched,” said UNHCR Regional Director Clementine Nkweta Salami.

“High levels of malnutrition in densely populated camps and settlements make refugees particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 outbreak,” she added. “Some refugees also live in urban areas, often in the poorest informal settlements, representing a significant proportion of the urban poor in many countries in the region.”

“COVID-19 is unprecedented as it affects not just one country or region, but the whole world. It is not just a supply side problem, such as drought, or a demand side issue such as a recession – it is both at the same time and on a global scale,” said WFP Deputy Regional Director Brenda Behan.

“More people are expected to die from the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself,” she said. “And refugees and the urban poor across the region are at greatest risk.”

Some half of the urban population in the region lives in informal urban settlements or slums, with 25 million people living hand-to-mouth each day. Millions have already lost their jobs as economies falter amid lockdowns and curfews to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Governments and humanitarian organizations are scrambling to address the loss of food security for many families in urban areas, or risk the destabilizing effects of urban unrest.

WFP has a funding shortfall of $103 million to provide full food rations or full cash transfers to more than 3 million refugees in the nine countries in the region through September.

With governments in the region imposing restrictions delaying cross-border trade because of fears that truck drivers are spreading COVID-19, WFP calls for cooperation to keep both commercial and humanitarian goods flowing so people receive the right food at the right time.

COVID-19 is spreading across the region at the same time as fears are increasing that new swarms of desert locusts, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and near Somalia may eat newly planted crops ahead of the main harvest from July to September. Floods during the current long rains are another additional threat to people and food supplies in much of the region.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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A link to the WFP report is here: https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000115462/download/

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Peter Smerdon, WFP/Nairobi Tel. + 254 20 7622179, Mob. +254 707 722104

Joint statement by QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; and David Beasley, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

East Africa is a region beset by climate- and conflict-related shocks. Millions of people are already acutely food insecure. Now they face another major hunger threat in the form of desert locusts.

The locust upsurge affecting East Africa is a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability. This is a scourge of biblical proportions. Yet as ancient as this scourge is, its scale today is unprecedented in modern times.

On January 20th, FAO called for $76 million to help combat this pest crisis. But the resources to control the outbreak have been too slow in coming.

Since FAO launched its first appeal to help what was then three affected countries, the locust swarms have moved rapidly across vast distances and the full extent of their massive scale has become clear. Since our last op-ed pleading for action on February 12th, swarms have been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

Each day, more countries are affected. Last week, a swarm crossed into one of Africa’s most food-insecure and fragile countries, South Sudan. Just this week, it was confirmed that one swarm reached the eastern boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a country that has not seen a locust incursion since 1944. Needless to say, the potential impact of locusts on a country still grappling with complex conflict, Ebola and measles outbreaks, high levels of displacement, and chronic food insecurity would be devastating.

As the locusts continue their invasion throughout eastern Africa, and more details emerge about the scale of need in affected areas, the cost of action has already doubled to $138 million. FAO urgently needs this money to help Governments control these devastating pests, especially in the next four months.

This funding will ensure that activities to control the locusts can take place before new swarms emerge. It will also provide help for people whose crops or pastures are already affected, to protect their families and their livelihoods.

Desert locusts have a reproduction cycle of three months. Today, mature swarms are laying eggs within vast areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, many of which are already hatching. In just a few weeks, the next generation of the pests will transition from their juvenile stage and take wing in a renewed frenzy of destructive swarm activity. This will be just as farmers’ crops begin to sprout.

The next wave of locusts could devastate East Africa’s most important crop of the year, right when it is at its most vulnerable.

But that doesn’t have to happen. The window of opportunity is still open. The time to act is now.

Anticipatory action to control and contain the locusts before the new swarms take flight and farmers crops first break soil is critical. At the same time, FAO needs more resources to immediately begin boosting the resilience of affected communities so they can better withstand some inevitable shocks. Acting now to avert a food crisis is a more humane, effective and cost-efficient approach than responding to the aftermath of disaster.

We welcome the response so far from many international donors. To date, $33 million has been received or committed. But the funding gaps are clear, and needs are growing too rapidly. We need to do more. WFP has estimated the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone to be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now.

It is time for the international community to act more decisively. The math is clear, as is our moral obligation. Pay a little now, or pay a lot more later.

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The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

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