East Africa and the Horn: Drought Fallout
The greater Eastern Africa region has been suffering from an acute drought this year, in some countries the worst in six decades, which has exacerbated chronic food supply issues throughout the region. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), host of a high-level meeting on July 25, noted that adverse weather in 2010 left most of the region without stocks or resiliency to meet this year’s pressure. Even if the rainfall finally arrives and contributes to a stronger harvest in 2012, this year’s crisis reveals an absence of food security for millions of people.
High food prices worldwide and a series of poor global harvests have exacerbated the situation in East Africa since 2010, when below-average rainfall resulting from the La Nina weather phenomenon began to contribute to further food shortfalls. Despite a stronger harvest in much of the world, this problem has recently exploded into a full-fledged drought crisis in some areas, impacting over 12 million people in the region overall (FAO estimates). Agricultural production is reduced and crops are experiencing greater vulnerability to infestation; livestock are dying from thirst, hunger and disease; and soil is suffering from depleted quality and erosion. Even those who have not faced food shortages still feel the sting of higher food prices and inflation, which have risen across the region.
The UN has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia. Many have managed to flee the famine-affected regions but numerous others are trapped behind, facing drought and the threat from armed rebel militias. Al-Shabaab, the fundamentalist militia which controls most of southern Somalia and has close links to al Qaeda, offered in July a brief lifting of the food aid ban it had imposed, only to deny lifting it once again a few days later. These actions severely limit the assistance outside governments or agencies can provide within Somalia itself. Conditions are compounded by a barely-functional central government – Somalia ranks number one on Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index.
The drought has brought an explosion of refugee flows from the country. Eastern Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, with a capacity of 90,000, is currently housing close to 400,000 people. Kenyan officials are divided as to the best solution, with some wanting to build additional facilities such as the 40,000-capacity Ifo II camp, which opened in July to take in some Dadaab residents. Others are emphatic that providing food and other aid within Somalia to prevent displacement is the better alternative (although they do not pose solutions to the barriers presented by the conflict there), as it would avoid disruptions in Kenya.
Refugee flight to Kenya from al-Shabaab-controlled regions has long been an issue, and drought compounds these vulnerabilities. The conflict creates restrictions on movement within Somalia, preventing people from migrating to seek water and food (for themselves and for their livestock) and also stopping other economic activity which could lead to income growth. Half the population is affected by malnutrition, which poses an immediate risk of death, particularly for the young population, and can translate into negative long-term health and economic impacts for survivors. Livestock is a key asset, and widespread animal deaths are a severe financial strike against households already living in precarious economic conditions.
Kenya is also suffering a crisis of its own as one of the nations hit hardest hit by the drought. Agriculture comprises a high percentage of both GDP and export revenues in East Africa (over 30% and 47% respectively), and Kenya is no exception (25% and 50%). The drought thus is causing not only food shortages but weaker growth, as highlighted in RGE’s outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa. Revenue from cash crops such as tea and coffee has also declined, hurting agricultural output, export revenues and consumption. In addition to shortages, rising inflation has undermined incomes, impairing consumer confidence. Like their Somali counterparts, Kenyan pastoralists’ household wealth is damaged by livestock deaths.
At 36%, food makes up a large proportion of Kenya’s consumer price index: food and fuel price inflation have contributed to skyrocketing cost-of-living, spurring riots and civil strife at home and in countries such as Uganda. In June 2011, inflation in Kenya reached 14.5% y/y, the highest in over two years and almost triple the central bank’s 5% target. The government previously reduced taxes on some food and fuel items in late April, and the Energy Regulatory Commission cut fuel prices in June, but these measures did little to slow a rising CPI. The central bank hiked interest rates, but public wage hikes and other measures mean that second round effects are a risk.
Inertia and conflicting political interests by various international community actors also present roadblocks. On the domestic level, individual governments can be reluctant to respond, concerned that support now may reflect an admission of responsibility for crises. The inaction of global and regional players may create social and political vulnerabilities that undermine the growth prospects not only in the weak states that are the epicenter of this crisis, but their neighbors where average incomes are rising only slowly. With much of the G7 looking inward and trying to cut back on spending, food aid may be a difficult sell.
The global response has been underwhelming. At its July 25 meeting, the FAO acknowledged the need to invest in sustainable agriculture to prevent or limit the impact of potential crises in the future. Given the institutional and political constraints, this seems optimistic. The participants recognized that the current crisis “could grow rapidly into a humanitarian disaster affecting many parts of the greater Horn of Africa region, if it is not quickly contained and reversed.” They are putting forward a twin-track program, both to boost short-term support and to enhance long-term capacity to prevent future food shortages. It remains to be seen if the range of foreign investors, including many from the GCC, will be willing supporters.
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They are putting forward a twin-track program, both to boost short-term support and to enhance long-term capacity to prevent future food shortages. It remains to be seen if the range of foreign investors, including many from the GCC, will be willing supporters