How to combat the drought in Horn of Africa

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The Horn of Africa is currently facing an unprecedented challenge as it endures its sixth consecutive rainy season with no rainfall. This prolonged drought has led to a crisis of displacement and immense hardship for millions of people in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Scarce water sources, widespread hunger, insecurity, and conflict have created a dire situation that demands urgent attention.

In response to this humanitarian emergency, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling for immediate assistance amounting to $137 million. This funding is crucial to provide life-saving aid to 3.3 million refugees, internally displaced people, and affected local host communities who have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety and support.

Though famine has been averted in Somalia thus far, it is not without immense effort from the humanitarian response. However, people in the region continue to battle life-threatening food and water shortages due to devastating losses in harvests, livestock, and income. The cost of essential commodities remains exceptionally high, making it unaffordable for many vulnerable individuals.

The situation is exacerbated by the dangerous interplay of climate-related challenges and ongoing conflicts in the region. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes, with over 1.7 million individuals internally displaced in Ethiopia and Somalia, primarily during the previous year. Additionally, more than 180,000 refugees from Somalia and South Sudan have sought refuge in drought-affected areas of Kenya and Ethiopia.

The impact of the drought and insecurity is evident in the increasing displacement trends. In recent weeks, nearly 100,000 people arrived in Doolo, a remote area in Ethiopia’s Somali region, fleeing conflict in the Laascaanood area within Somalia. Furthermore, in Somalia alone, over 287,000 people have been internally displaced since the start of the year, primarily due to conflict and drought.

The humanitarian response in the region faces significant challenges due to space constraints in Kenya’s Dadaab camps. New arrivals seeking relief from the climate catastrophe are compelled to reside on the outskirts of the camps, where assistance is limited. However, efforts are underway to establish a new settlement at the site of a previously closed camp to address the growing needs.

In this critical situation, UNHCR’s planned assistance includes providing emergency shelter and household items for new arrivals and displaced individuals in the three countries. Water supply will be increased through water trucking, drilling additional boreholes, and refurbishing existing water and sanitation systems. Cash assistance will prioritize the most vulnerable to help supplement their food needs and encourage the availability of essential goods.

Furthermore, health facilities will receive support to enhance nutritional assistance for women and children through high-nutrient feeding and medical treatment for related diseases. UNHCR will also collaborate with local authorities to strengthen border monitoring and facilitate refugee registration and documentation, ensuring that new arrivals, including those with special needs, can access appropriate assistance. Moreover, child protection and interventions to address gender-based violence will be intensified.

The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. In 2022, UNHCR received less than half of the required financial resources to respond adequately to the drought. Consequently, the organization calls for more global solidarity and support to protect, assist, and empower drought-affected communities and save millions of lives in the Horn of Africa.