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Horn of Africa Facing Climate-induced Emergency

Food supplies are distributed during a visit by WFP Regional Director to a camp for the IDPs in Adadle, in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, Jan. 22, 2022.

The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, warns the Horn of Africa is facing a climate-induced emergency and says the international community must act now to prevent a catastrophic loss of life and livelihoods.

The specter of the 2011 famine in Somalia hangs over the dire situation confronting millions of people in the Horn of Africa. That emergency killed 250,000 people, half of them children. Hunger and malnutrition have worsened in the region after three years of consecutive drought. But famine has not been reported in any area.

UN agencies, however, say that could rapidly change. The UN children’s fund predicts as many as 20 million people in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia will need water and food assistance in the next six months.

Mohamed Malick Fall is UNICEF Eastern and Southern African Regional Director. Speaking on a line from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, he says children will be among the biggest victims of this crisis.

Right now, nearly 5.5 million children in these four countries are threatened by acute malnutrition and an estimated 1.4 million children by severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF fears that this number will increase by 50 percent if the rains do not come in the next three months.

Three dry seasons in a row have decimated crops, led to severe water scarcity, and killed livestock. This has forced families to leave their homes in search of grazing land and water, increasing the risk of disease and severe malnutrition.

The World Food Program estimates 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are gripped by severe hunger. Fall says children caught in this climate emergency are missing out on meals, on school and on access to lifesaving health services.

“Families are taking extreme measures to survive and in many cases leaving their homes, which puts children on the move at particular risk. This is a crisis that requires a collective response—ensuring access to clean water, nutrition, and safe spaces for children.”

UNICEF is appealing for $123 million to provide lifesaving aid for the most vulnerable in the four countries until the end of June. It warns many children will die or end up with life-long cognitive or physical damage if the international community fails to act quickly.