The United Nations says more than 18 million people across eastern Africa are at risk of food insecurity due to El Niño weather patterns and conflicts in the region.
The East African bloc IGAD warned Wednesday the persistent drought affecting eastern and central Africa would continue for at least three more months.
IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center Director Guleid Artan said east African nations would receive more rainfall, but not until March.
“The drought in the northern sector will continue till the next rainy season while the rains will subside in half of Kenya but will have above average rain in Southern and Western Kenya and Uganda, Tanzania especially around the Great Lakes area,” said Artan.
El Niño, a climate phenomena, occurs when temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean become warmer than average, causing a shift in atmospheric circulation.
El Niño’s impact was felt in eastern Africa as far back as early May when drought conditions affected parts of Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.
According to Pete Manfield from the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 18.5 million people are at risk of starvation due to drought and conflicts in the region.
“There are a number of conflict dynamics in the region which are new this year which are adding quite a significant strain to the new humanitarian requirement, particularly conflicts in Burundi, South Sudan and in Yemen, and this is requiring a scale up in short-term life-saving interventions,” he said.
The regional drought has hit Ethiopia especially hard, and the government there is appealing for $1.1 billion to help feed more than 10 million people.
Neighboring South Sudan and Somalia both have internal strife on top of drought.
U.N. World Food Program spokeswoman Challis McDonough said the fighting made it hard for aid agencies to reach those most in need of aid.
"And then combined with that we now have erratic rainfall and the harvest in some of the non-conflict areas that have been kind of the bread basket of South Sudan are not as good as we would have hoped ... I think in Somalia you are facing a similar combination of kind of conflict-related concerns,” she said.
An estimated 300,000 people across east Africa have been displaced from their homes due to the drought.