The failure of successive rainy seasons across the Horn of Africa region (mainly in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya) has led to severe shortages of water, food and pasture. Parts of Somalia are on the brink of famine and the April/May rains only brought modest relief. The EU has dramatically stepped up its assistance in an effort to avert a catastrophe similar to the 2011 famine which left 260 000 Somalis dead. Humanitarian partners are providing food assistance in the form of cash grants, as well as water and health care.
The drought in the Horn of Africa comes on the heels of erratic weather caused by El Niño in 2015-16. While still recovering, communities across swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been further devastated. Many families have not only lost their source of food, but also their livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted as a result, and are in search of water, pasture and assistance.
The food security situation continues to deteriorate in areas which are difficult to access due to conflict or where insufficient aid is coming through. A Fall Armyworm infestation is also destroying crops across Ethiopia and Kenya. As a result of massive livestock losses, many children have been deprived of nutrient-rich milk. Acute malnutrition among children has sharply risen and is especially life-threatening when in conjunction with measles and water-related diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. Indeed, the drought affected regions have been hit by deadly cholera outbreaks. Since the beginning of 2017, Somalia and Ethiopia have recorded 76 000 and 38 000 cases respectively, in addition to 2230 cases in Kenya.
Ethiopia and Kenya are among the world’s top 10 refugee hosting countries. They host the majority of the 875 000 Somali refugees in camps which rely heavily on international aid. There are also hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, Eritrean and Congolese refugees in the region.
In 2016 alone, the European Commission allocated over €257 million in humanitarian aid, including a €163-million package for countries in the Horn of Africa most affected by El Niño. In 2017, so far €285 million has been allocated for aid to the wider region (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda). This includes a €169 million tranche of aid specifically to respond to the drought.
The humanitarian funds are aimed at helping those whose lives are threatened by drought and conflict through the delivery of food assistance in the form of cash where possible and in-kind elsewhere; through health and nutrition care; the provision of clean water, sanitation and shelter; and livelihoods support, education and protection. With millions of internally displaced people and refugees, both protracted and recent, providing life-saving assistance and protection continues to be a humanitarian priority for this region.
In 2017, given the severity of the crisis, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department has had to prioritise life-saving assistance to respond to the acute drought through food assistance, water trucking to communities left without any safe water sources and the treatment of severely malnourished children. Providing assistance and protection to uprooted populations, either internally displaced, refugees or returnees, is a priority. With the high numbers of forcibly displaced people in the Horn of Africa, efforts are made to help them become less dependent on aid and more self-reliant.
Across the region, the Commission’s humanitarian and development aid branches are increasingly linking up when emergency situations become protracted (refugees) or predictable (recurring droughts and floods). Humanitarian actors who are traditionally concerned with providing immediate life-saving aid to extremely vulnerable populations can inform longer-term strategies aimed at addressing root causes and building the resilience of these populations. From their side, development partners can better take into account the recurrent needs of the most vulnerable groups, including refugees and internally displaced people, and help them to become more self-reliant and less dependent on aid.
Despite the drought, the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Kenya to Somalia has continued in recent months. Over 70 000 refugees have been repatriated since 2014. The EU’s position is that any repatriation should be voluntary, informed, safe, dignified and sustainable.