Yesterday morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs held a hearing on the ongoing drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, affecting 12.4 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. In addition to the drought’s toll on human life, the crisis has created a real security threat as refugees from war-torn Somalia pour across borders into the already overwhelmed nations of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Although the Horn of Africa is a region accustomed to drought, in recent years the drought cycle has dramatically accelerated, which, when combined with the ongoing conflict in Somalia and the rising cost of food, has created a humanitarian disaster that is unparalleled by any crisis in the last decade. The drought has resulted in livestock mortality and crop failure, which have in turn caused famine in regions of Somalia where there is no reliable access to humanitarian aid.
According to the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations currently estimates that there are 3.2 million people in Somalia who are in dire need of immediate, life-saving assistance. Somalis are leaving the nation’s famine-stricken southern region for Kenya and Ethiopia in record breaking numbers, and at least 1.5 million internally displaced Somalis have flooded into Mogadishu and the surrounding region. The State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration further warns that the rapid influx of refugees is furthering straining the already overwhelmed refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
After an early warning system alerted of the impending crisis, the United States began preparing for the drought last fall by stockpiling food and supplies in the region. To date, the U.S. government, with the help of various non-governmental organizations, has aided more than 10.7 million people in the region. Efforts are not only focused on immediate relief for the most vulnerable, but also on building greater food security and resilience in the region to prepare for future droughts.
Unfortunately, the situation will likely get worse, as a drought is typically worst in the month before the rainy season, which will come in September. Even when the rain comes, the crisis may continue as with the rain comes disease that could spread rapidly through the Horn’s weakened population.
When Congress returns to work in early September, they will try to finish up work on legislation that would fund the federal government for the next fiscal year (October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012). Join LIRS in urging Congress to support refugee and humanitarian funding to ensure that the United States can respond to refugee and humanitarian crises worldwide.