Hunger: a scourge that does not leave the Horn of Africa
In the past, the Somali Maryam’s family raised goats and cultivated land. This is how the whole family subsisted. But after a long time without rain, the land dried up, their goats died and the family group fell into destitution. “Now we have nothing”, Maryam says from the IDP camp where she has found temporary shelter with her family.
In the Horn of Africa, a region comprising Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, there are many people in such situations. There, the reality is pressing; it hasn’t rained for six years, not even in the rainy season. Crops have been scarce and water sources have dried up. Today we can affirm that this is the most severe and longest drought on record. But this climatic phenomenon is only one of the obstacles to achieving food security in this region. Let’s look at the others:
A region of localised violence
The countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing very complex armed conflicts.
Somalia, for example, has been the scene of a protracted civil war. Today, the country is divided into several zones controlled by armed groups and the government has limited control over the territory. In addition, jihadist groups such as Al-Shabaab have carried out a campaign of violence in the country, including attacks on civilians and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
In Ethiopia, the situation is no better. There were conflicts between the government and ethnic groups in several regions of the country, causing a serious humanitarian crisis with thousands of displaced civilians, famine and allegations of human rights violations.
Eritrea has been involved in several regional conflicts and is currently involved in the conflict in Tigray, in support of the Ethiopian government. And while Yemen is not geographically in the Horn of Africa it has been in civil war since 2015, generating forced displacement to the countries that make up the Horn of Africa and thus putting significant pressure on their infrastructure.
According to the seventh edition of the World Food Crisis Report published in April by FAO, the economic crisis is one of the main causes of food insecurity and malnutrition, surpassing conflict as the leading cause in 27 countries around the world.
In the Horn of Africa, rising food prices and severe market shocks undermine countries’ ability to respond to the food crisis. In addition, extreme poverty and economic inequality have created social and political tensions in the region, leaving its inhabitants living with a lack of employment and economic opportunities.
The repercussions of the war in Ukraine
As is well known, the impact of the war in Ukraine has affected global food security due to the large contributions of these countries in the global production and trade of fuel, agricultural inputs and essential food products such as wheat, corn and sunflower oil.
However, the Horn of Africa’s dependence on grain from Russia and Ukraine is deep-rooted. The “Black Sea Grain Initiative” is the official name of an agreement that regulates grain exports from these countries and has helped alleviate the global food crisis caused by the conflict.
The expiration of this agreement in March and the hesitations regarding its renewal are just signs of the fragility of supply chains. Let us bear in mind that, together with the Middle East, the region imports 40% of its wheat and corn from Ukraine. The war therefore remains a decisive factor for food security in a region that is overly dependent on food imports.
More FAO data that raise alarm bells
Another worrying fact pointed out in the report that helps us understand the situation in this region is that 40% of the population exposed to food crisis, emergency or catastrophe in the world resides in only five countries, and one of them is Ethiopia. In this African country alone, 21% of the population considered for the report is acutely food insecure, a situation in which people do not have enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs.
In addition, FAO forecasts that in Somalia, between April and June 2023, some 222,700 people could die of hunger and that, so far, about 3 million people have been forced to migrate due to conflict, insecurity and the consequences of climate change.
Coping with fragility
To alleviate the famine situation in the Horn of Africa we need a paradigm shift. We must focus on prevention, rather than taking reactive measures once the problem has been established. “This report makes it clear that progress is possible. We have the data and knowledge to build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable world where hunger has no home, including through stronger food systems”, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the foreword to the report.