A lack of seasonal rains has led to failed harvests, acute water shortages and the deaths of thousands of animals in the region, said the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA), forcing people to flee their homes in their tens of thousands in search of water and pasture for their livestock.
“Parts of Somalia are seeing the driest conditions in 30 years,” said Mike Sutherland of Save the Children, one of CBHA’s 15 member agencies.
In some areas of Somalia and northern Kenya, up to 30 per cent of the population is suffering from acute malnutrition, double the number sufficient to declare a humanitarian emergency.
Southern Ethiopia was also severely affected, he said, but like Kenya had more resources to deal with the problem.
In some parts of Somalia, prices were 135 per cent higher in March this year compared to March 2010, with wages down and local goat prices falling by 25-50 percent compared to the same period in 2010, said the US Aid-funded Famine early warning systems network.
With the absence of sufficient humanitarian assistance in the south, which is controlled by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, the population in the region was likely to take the worst toll from the current drought, it said.
“One in four children are malnourished but because this is the sixth consecutive failure of the rains in southern Somalia, people have little ability to cope with the situation,” said one aid worker co-ordinating relief operations in the country, but who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the security situation on the ground. “These are the worst conditions we’ve seen in decades.”
Over 30,000 Somali refugees have already fled to Kenya this year, where overcrowded camps house 314,000 in the northeast of the country.
East Africa is no stranger to severe dry seasons, but they have become more frequent in recent years because of the La Niña effect, say meteorologists. The most recent drought is believed to have caused massive flooding in Australia and Indonesia late last year, when ocean surface temperatures fell by 1.5 to 1.6 degrees, changing atmospheric circulation patterns in the Indian Ocean.
According to the aid agency Goal, which yesterday warned of a significant famine in Ethiopia, when ocean surface temperatures drop by more than 0.5 degrees, daily temperatures in southern Ethiopia increase, drying up surface water faster than is normal.
The short rains from October to December had almost completely failed, it said, with the long rains that extend from March to May now in danger.
High levels of animal deaths were now evident, with malnutrition on the rise.
“In Goal Ethiopia’s experience, the current situation is the most severe witnessed for many years,” said John Rynne, the organisation’s country director.