- The Horn of Africa has been grappling with the most severe drought in 40 years since late 2020.
- Rain-fed agriculture in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia worst hit as harvests drop to 70 percent of normal standards.
- A United Nations-backed conference raised $2.4 billion on May 24th to address famine in the Horn of Africa.
The worst drought in a-half-century is causing severe economic hit on economies in the Horn of Africa. This is due to the economies’ heavy reliance on agriculture, and other climate-vulnerable resources.
Drought has led to reduced rainfall and water, severely reducing agricultural production. Crops failed, and pasturelands dried up. As a result, millions of heads of livestock died due to a lack of water and fodder. Millions of farmers are experiencing significant crop losses and decreased livestock productivity. Consequently, huge populations are grappling with thinning incomes and food shortages.
Agricultural losses, food insecurity
Rain-fed agriculture in Kenya, Ethiopia, and northern Somalia has been hit hard. Available data shows harvests have dropping by up to 70 percent of the normal levels.
Overall, agriculture is the primary pillar of economies across the Horn of Africa. The industry provides employment to roughly 80 percent of the population and accounts for 25 percent of region’s GDP.
Drought-induced crop failures and livestock losses contribute to food insecurity. The scarcity of food drives up prices, making it difficult for vulnerable populations to access adequate nutrition. This resulted in malnutrition, stunting, and even famine, particularly affecting children and the elderly.
Despite the ongoing rains since March 2023, an estimated 36.4 million people are still suffering from negative effects of drought. About 24.1 million people in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia, and 4.5 million in Kenya need urgent support.
To add on, insect pests are threatening to clear about 350,000 tonnes of grain in Ethiopia. The pests are threatening to destruct nearly 200,000 hectares of farm land. What’s more over one million livestock deaths might be recorded if pests are not contained.
Seven million children at risk of malnutrition
The drought has resulted in unimaginable suffering among the traditionally nomadic population. Current estimates show that up to 75 percent of the households eating less, risking increased malnutrition. Children, about seven million in total across the region are at risk of malnutrition.
In the countries’ arid and semi-arid land areas, 2.43 million livestock have died since October 2021. This massive loss of economic livelihoods represents an overall mortality rate of 3.55 percent.
In Kenya alone, 1.4 million livestock died in the final part of last year due to drought. What’s more, wild animals are also dying in their hundreds. Populations living close to national parks and reserves are also witnessing increased human-wildlife conflict. On May 15, eleven lions were reported speared to death by Maasai Morans in the areas bordering Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Wild animals are moving further away from their traditional hunting grounds for food.
One of the big cats that was killed was named Loonkiito, a 19-year-old frail male lion that had wandered out of Amboseli National Park in search of food, officers from Kenya Wildlife Service reported.
Sight seeing and wild game in national parks are key ingredients of Kenya’s $2.13 billion industry. But drought is taking its toll, causing huge havoc. Over 200 elephants, 550 wildebeest, 400 zebras, tens of giraffes, and nearly 100 buffaloes are reported dead in Kenya.
Overall, Kenya data shows the economy grew by 4.8 percent in 2022, down from 7.6 percent in 2021. The drop in East Africa’s giant economy was associated with a contraction in the agriculture sector.
Declining trade and market activities
Drought in the Horn of Africa has reduced agricultural production and the availability of surplus crops for trade. Local markets are suffering from reduced supplies, causing price hikes and decreased economic activity. Several countries including Kenya have turned to the importation of staple foods such as maize and sugar. This is pushing up the retail prices out of the rich of common citizens due to declining value of local currencies against the US dollar.
Further, limited water resources are not enough to support irrigation systems, negatively impacting cash crops and export-oriented agri-industries. With muted exports, millions of workers involved in regional trade are at risk of losing jobs as the economy staggers.
The market prices of common items have risen more than before. The average monthly price of the local food basket has increased by nearly half across the broader East Africa region.
The drought, coupled with high fertiliser prices due to supply chain woes emanating from the Russia-Ukraine war, is expected to shrink regional cereal production by roughly 16 percent, triggering broader economic spinoffs.
In Kenya, In September 2022, Kenya set aside $25.6 million to subsidise 71,000 metric tonnes or (1.42 million 50-kilo bags) of fertiliser. As a result, the government rolled out the national fertiliser subsidy programme targetting 17 counties in the quarter ending March. What’s more, Kenya launched a new variety of fertiliser that will be available for farmers across the country. The farm input is said to be soil specific and tailor-made to suit crop nutrient requirements.
Kenya’s agriculture sector contracted in 2022
According to Economic Survey 2023, the agriculture sector in Kenya contracted for the second consecutive year by -1.9 percent compared to -0.3 percent in 2021. Agriculture’s contribution to Kenya’s GDP dropped from 22.4 percent to 21.2 percent. The decline was largely attributed to the severe drought.
In landlocked Ethiopia, the government is also subsidising fertiliser in order to alleviate the price increase burden on farmers, due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Out of the 1.3 million metric tonnes (MT) of fertilisers purchased, over 500,000 MT of NPS, NPSB and Urea fertiliser arrived at the Djibouti port between 27th December 2022 and March and were moved to warehouses in different regions for the new crop year.
Due to the severe drought, the prices of maize and sorghum in markets Somalia are triple what they were a year ago.
Countries across the Horn of Africa have been liberalising their markets, for example by reducing control by state marketing boards and leaving market forces to determin the trends. Although liberalization has opened up new opportunities for farmers who have good land, irrigation systems, and access to markets, there are risks involved, particularly for the poorest farmers who have little access to new technologies and inputs.
Increased dependence on aid
Drought emergencies often result in increased dependence on humanitarian aid. Governments and international organizations provide relief in the form of food, water, medical aid, and other essentials. However, this places a strain on resources and can divert funds from long-term development initiatives, further impeding economic growth.
Addressing the economic impacts of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa requires a combination of short-term emergency relief, long-term resilience-building measures. It also calls for sustainable agricultural and water management practices. International cooperation, investment in infrastructure, and diversification of livelihoods can contribute to mitigating the economic effects of drought in the region.
A United Nations-backed forum successfully raised $2.4 billion on Wednesday, May 24, to tackle famine in the Horn of Africa. This region is under the vice-like grip of climate-change-induced severe drought in decades. The funds will be used to provide life-saving assistance to approximately 32 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, according to UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA.
Acknowledging the significant efforts made by local communities, humanitarian organisations, authorities, and donors, OCHA emphasised that their collective contributions played a vital role in averting famine. However, it is worth noting that the amount raised falls short of the $7 billion estimated by the UN as the necessary funding to assist those affected by drought and conflict in the region. OCHA added that the emergency is far from over, underscoring the urgent need for additional resources to prevent a return to the worst-case scenario.
Most significant climate injustices of our time
Since 2020, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan have experienced five consecutive failed rainy seasons, pushing millions, already battered by Covid-19 into suffering.
Somalia, in particular, is grappling not only with the impact of drought but also with an ongoing Islamist insurgency. The UN and the Norwegian Refugee Council report that about 3.8 million people have been displaced by conflict, drought, or floods in Somalia. A further 6.7 million individuals struggling to access food.
The World Weather Attribution group, an international team of climate scientists, released a report in April linking the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa to the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Development and Africa, is calling for immediate action to prevent further suffering. While the funding pledged during the conference will undoubtedly assist millions, concerted efforts are required to break the cycle of the crisis affecting numerous states.
Prevent further loss of lives
Recently, a consortium of NGOs, including Islamic Relief Worldwide and Save the Children, urged donors to fully finance the necessary humanitarian response to address one of the most significant climate injustices of our time. These organizations cited UN statistics, revealing that despite the funding mobilized to aid the region last year, an estimated 43,000 people died in Somalia alone due to the drought in 2022.
During the opening of the donors’ conference, organised in partnership with Italy, Qatar, the UK, and the US, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a plea for an immediate and substantial infusion of funding to prevent further loss of life. He emphasised the need to act promptly to avert a catastrophe.
Guterres noted that the people of the Horn of Africa, the epicentre of one of the world’s worst climate emergencies, are paying an unconscionable price for a crisis they did not cause. He stressed the obligation to show solidarity, provide assistance, and offer hope for the future. Immediate action is necessary to ensure their survival.