British humanitarian organization ActionAid is calling for governments in the Horn of Africa to help small-scale farmers and for donor nations to increase funding and food-aid shipments to the region. The organization says without urgent action, several million people in five countries could face starvation in the coming months. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The head of emergencies for ActionAid, Roger Yates, says a combination of failed harvests, global increases in the price of food, fertilizers and fuel, political instability and violence have left many communities in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia unable to cope.
"I would not use the hype of saying it is the worst ever," he said. "But I do not think we have ever seen a point where this massive food crisis have compounded so badly with the natural phenomena of drought, animal diseases, further compounded by the political conflicts that we have seen there."
The United Nations and other international agencies have described the events as a perfect storm, setting the stage for a possible famine in the Horn region.
While it has rained in some drought-stricken areas in recent weeks, aid workers say it has been too little or too late for sufficient harvests this year. Making matters worse, an infestation of army worms have wiped out crops that had been salvaged.
The U.N. food agency estimates that nearly five million Ethiopians are in critical need of emergency food aid until the end of the year. In Somalia, another three million people, many of them women and children displaced by war, are already suffering from severe malnutrition and are in dire need of help.
Less documented is the food crisis in Kenya, where more than one million people are struggling to find enough food. Prices of some staples such as maize have doubled here since the beginning of the year.
Roger Yates says in some parts of the northern Rift Valley, poor people are surviving on little more than wild berries.
"What we do not want is to see people having to move away from their homes or to sell all their assets to survive," he said. "If we get enough help in good time, then people can recover quite quickly from a crisis like this. If not, then it takes years to recover. As we see it, now is the tipping point and we have to respond to that. And it is a challenge. We have had crisis in the Horn before and perhaps because of that, it is harder to get the level of support that is needed. But we cannot live in a world where we allow people simply to starve."
Yates says while donor nations need to respond with adequate funding for food aid, governments in the Horn region should begin addressing the crisis by helping small-scale farmers and herders protect their livelihoods and ensure that no more crops or livestock are lost.