In a region already prone to food insecurity associated with weather extremes, natural resource limitations and conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020-21 locust invasion have stretched the coping capacities of rural communities to the limit, undermining agricultural productivity.
Now a third season of drought driven by La Nina is raising concerns that a large-scale hunger crisis could break out if the region’s food producing rural communities do not receive adequate assistance timed to the necessities of upcoming agricultural seasons.
In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the worst affected countries, projections indicate that some 25.3 million people will be facing high acute food insecurity by mid-2022 – if that scenario should materialize, it would place the Horn of Africa among the world’s largest-scale food crises.
"We know from experience that supporting agriculture at moments like this is hugely impactful – that when we act fast and at the right moment to get water, seeds, animal feed, veterinary care, and much needed cash to at-risk rural families, then hunger catastrophes can be averted," said FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience, Rein Paulsen, in a press release on Monday.
"Well, the right moment is now. We urgently need to support pastoralists and farms in the Horn, immediately, because the cycle of the seasons waits for no one," he added.
In 2011, a severe drought contributed to a famine outbreak in Somalia that saw 260 000 people perish from starvation – most of them before an official famine declaration was made.
In 2017, however, potential drought-associated famines in four countries in the greater Horn of Africa region were averted thanks to a concerted international push to act early and that prioritized helping rural communities cope with stresses before they spiralled into food crises.