Climate refugees flee amid East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years

Updated On: Jul 07, 2011

East Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, threatening the lives of 10 million and prompting thousands of climate refugees to flee in desperation for food and water.

The drought is largely due to a lack of rain and erratic rainfall, said David Throp, country director for Plan International in Ethiopia. “Millions depending on subsistence farming are planning and expecting rain at a certain time of year.”

When crops fail, few can afford to buy food, as food inflation in Ethiopia pushes 40 percent. “The official emergency [aid] caseload is 3 million,” said Mr Throp. “We expect it to go up. The numbers are very serious.”

In some areas of northern Kenya, 37 percent of the population need emergency feeding – more than double the 15 percent emergency threshold. The Kenyan government has declared the drought situation a national disaster.

Report & Analysis: Worst drought in 60 years hits 10 mln in East Africa [AFP, 28 June 2011]

On Wednesday, a coalition of five major Canadian aid organisations sounded the alarm on the food crisis in East Africa, calling for emergency funds to deliver clean water, food, medical and shelter materials.

Somalia’s Islamist militia Al Shabab has also welcomed Muslim and non-Muslim aid agencies, which they had previously barred, to assist drought-stricken areas.

Report & Analysis: East African ‘drought is the worst in 60 years’ [Toronto Star, 6 July 2011]

The mass starvation has prompted Somalis to trek to the vast and overcrowded Dadaab refugee camps, where competition for resources among the refugee-hosting communities has led to conflict and violence.

According to the UN, the current number of registered refugees at Dadaab is pushing four times the camp’s capacity. Twenty thousand people have arrived in the last two weeks alone, and an estimated 1,400 arrive daily.

More than half the refugees are children, forced out of school. Supplementary and therapeutic feeding programs are struggling to keep pace with the rising needs. The UN estimates that more malnourished Somali children have died at Dadaab in the first quarter of this year than during 2010.

The dire situation in Africa has prompted comments on the need for long-term reform in Africa that will reduce the country’s dependence on foreign aid.

Opinion: East Africa drought: Africa must do more to help itself [Telegraph, 4 July 2011

Opinion: A crisis is a crisis – but there’s more to tackling famine than emergency aid[Guardian, 6 July 2011]

Meanwhile, a dispute has broken out among Kenyan lawmakers about allowing genetically modified crops into the country. Some say such crops could be a source of life-saving sustenance, while the House committee on Agriculture has warned that Africa’s lack of technical capacity to assess such products will result in endangered lives.

Report & Analysis: Millions of African climate refugees desperate for food, water [ENS, 6 July 2011]

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