An international aid group says East Africa is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in 10 years. The Britain-based agency, Oxfam, says climate change is leading to extreme drought, killing cattle and threatening lives throughout the region. The agency is appealing for millions of dollars for emergency relief.
Speaking to VOA from Nairobi, Oxfam's East Africa Director Paul Smith Lomas says in some regions adequate rainfall has not come for three years. The worst affected countries, he says, are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Uganda.
"There are very distressing levels of malnutrition," he said. "We know that in northern Kenya, for example, the level of malnutrition amongst children is beyond what is defined as an emergency level. In Somalia almost one in six children are seen to be acutely malnourished."
He says hundreds of thousands of cattle are dying, destroying a big source of income. Herders on the hunt for grassland, he says, are roaming outside their normal pastures, leading to fierce competition for resources. Oxfam says this has led to 65 deaths in northern Kenya since June.
Lomas says rains are expected this month.
"We are predicting that these could be rains better than average which of course would be incredibly welcome," he added. "The fear is that those rains could be destructive so we could see flooding and flooding could bring new forms of destruction and new forms of suffering."
Oxfam is calling on the public to donate around $15 million to bring emergency relief to the area. But Lomas says long-term plans are also needed. He says the weather in East Africa has become unpredictable and plans need to be made to prevent humanitarian crises in the future.
"Droughts used to happen something like once every 10 years or so. Now we're in a position where droughts appear to be happening every year, every second year, every third year, so far more frequent," said Lomas. "So it's very clear that we can't rely on the predictability of the weather anything like as much as people use to be able to do."
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said last week that a total of 20 million people are dependent on international aid in East Africa. This is almost double the number affected by a similar food crisis in 2006.
The United Nations World Food Program announced last week that its services in Kenya will be cut by half in October because of insufficient funds.