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Drought in Africa 2017

Ethiopia drought ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Farmers, traders and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods.

The El Niño-driven crisis has increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, and driven up food prices for urban residents. Livestock deaths and fire sales have slashed the asset wealth of pastoralists, and cumulative bad harvests will make recovery all the harder for small-scale farmers.

In the worst cases, where conflict has made farming impossible and reduced humanitarian access, there will be famine. That currently applies only to South Sudan, but could also include Somalia if the emergency response falters.

What makes food price spikes all the harder to bear is that there is rarely a corresponding increase in people’s wages. And when the drought is over, prices often stay stubbornly high, note researchers Paul Adams and Edward Paice.

A number of countries wrestling with the impact of El Niño have still recorded decent macro-economic growth rates, but food price inflation means those benefits are rarely felt by ordinary citizens.

There are a number of strategies governments could adopt to address the situation: from improving the tradability of food, to coordinated climate change adaptation strategies, to meeting the African Union target of allocating 15 percent of budget spending to agriculture.

“No miraculous discoveries are required,” suggest Adams and Paice. “But the start point is recognition of the unsustainability of a relentless rise in the cost of food throughout Africa; and the fact that while droughts and conflict may create price spikes, the root causes of this phenomenon lie with government.”

The following is a list of 17 countries struggling to come to terms with the impact of two consecutive years of drought, which has left more than 38 million people at risk this year.



At risk: 1.2 million

The southern regions of Cunene, Huila and Namibe have been hard hit. As granaries empty and people sell off livestock, there are concerns over their ability to bounce back this year. Food prices are high and government services are limited.


At risk: 3 million

Poor rains last year, a one-month delay in the harvest, above average food prices, and reduced income from agricultural labour is expected to hurt poor households. But food insecurity – affecting a quarter of the population – is also driven by the country’s economic crisis as a result of ongoing political violence.


At risk: 227,463

Djibouti is one of the world’s most arid countries. Some 227,463 people are threatened with food insecurity in the hardest-hit areas of Ali Sabieh, Obock and Dikhil.


At risk: 450,000+

Eritrea strictly controls humanitarian access, so the extent of the crisis is difficult to gauge. The government denies there is a problem. But UNICEF has noted that malnutrition has increased over the past three years in four out of the country’s six regions, where rates already exceeded emergency levels. UNICEF plans to reach 450,000 children this year with nutritional support. That is likely to underestimate the extent of the problem.


At risk: 5.7million

The strongest El Niño phenomenon on record led to an extreme drought in 2016, with 10.2 million in need of food aid. A new drought means 2017 could be just as dire, throwing an additional 5.7 million people into crisis. Farmers and herders found their resilience tested to the limit last year. They have very limited resources left to cope with the current crisis.


At risk: 2.6 million

Widespread crop failure and falling terms of trade for pastoralists have affected farming and agro-pastoral communities in the northwest, northeastern and coastal strip of Kenya. The two main rainy seasons failed in 2016. There are growing reports of conflict as a result of displacement and water shortages. Four million people could be in need of aid by July if the long rains fail.


At risk: 159,959

Ninety percent of people in need received in-kind and cash aid. Without the ongoing assistance, Lesotho would be in a food security crisis. With good rains this season, an average harvest is forecast.


At risk: 978,000

Maize, cassava and rice production dropped by as much as 95 percent in the south of the country last year. Some 845,000 people are in immediate need. Of those, 330,000 are facing emergency conditions. Countrywide, rice prices were up by 25 percent and maize prices had doubled by the end of January.


At risk: 6.7 million

Half of Malawi’s rural population – 6.7 million people – are receiving food aid after two consecutive years of drought. In 2016, food prices were up 172 percent above the five-year average. The harvest this month should ease needs, and food prices are already falling as aid reduces pressure on the markets. But cash crop farmers are expected to see a fall in income this season after reducing the area they planted.


At risk: 2 million+

The impact of last month’s cyclone Dineo is expected to add an additional 300,000 to those in need. Drought has exhausted household food stocks, and aid is reaching only 45 percent the vulnerable. Dineo, which hit coastal Inhambane Province, affected nearly 551,000 people and destroyed 27,000 hectares of crops. Food aid and seeds are urgently needed.


At risk: unknown

Rwanda did not escape last year’s drought. Media reports said that between 50,000 and 100,000 families suffered severe crop losses, especially in eastern and southern districts.


At risk: 6.2 million

Half of all Somalis are facing acute food insecurity. Of these, nearly three million need urgent life-saving aid. The worsening drought has led to widespread water and pasture shortages for livestock. Displacement, malnutrition and drought-related diseases are all on the rise, and famine could be declared in parts of the country. Access is complicated by the al-Shabab insurgency.


At risk: 4.6 million

Sudan experiences unpredictable rainfall and desertification. The 2015 El Niño event was particularly severe and continued to be felt in the east of the country in 2016. Food insecurity is also driven by conflict, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.


At risk: 638,000

The 2016 drought scorched Swaziland, leaving an estimated 638,251 people in need of aid. Basic food prices remain high at the peak of the lean season. The rainfall forecast is for average to above-normal rains, but household productivity is expected to be lower than normal.


At risk: unknown

There have been media reports of failed harvests and livestock deaths. In response, a senior government official in the northern Manyara region released emergency food stocks onto the market. The government is resisting calls for a declaration of emergency.


At risk: 390,000+

Food stocks are critically low in northeastern Karamoja. Between July and November last year, 390,000 people were at crisis/emergency levels. Of those, only 200,000 were receiving aid. Conditions are also bad around Arua in the northwest. Two consecutive seasons of poor rains have hit production across much of the country. Staple food prices are rising.


At risk: 4.1 million

Consecutive El Nino-related droughts has left half the rural population in need of food aid until the end of the lean season in March. The crisis is compounded by low purchasing power, reduced remittances from South Africa and high food prices. There have been good rains over the past two months but there is a national shortage of fertilizer. There has also been an outbreak of the hard-to-control Armyworm pest throughout the country.

For in-depth reporting on how climate change is affecting farmers and food security in several African countries, see this special IRIN project.


TOP PHOTO: Sadeh Abdihayi tends to her livestock at a temporary settlement outside Al Bahi kebele, Ethiopia. CREDIT:  ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

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