More than 15 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are facing serious food and water shortages in a crisis which could have catastrophic consequences in coming months if left unaddressed, Oxfam has warned.
The three countries, located near the eastern most tip of the African continent known as the Horn of Africa, have been gripped by severe drought for months.
A lack of rain late last year, following on from one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded in 2015-16, has compounded an already dire situation for millions of people living in poverty.
Many communities have been unable to recover from the combined impacts of these events on food and water supplies.
Oxfam Australia Humanitarian Emergency Manager Meg Quartermaine said new reports indicating the worst may be yet to come were concerning.
“The forecasts are suggesting the next rains from March to May are also likely to be below average,” Ms Quartermaine said.
“Food supplies in Somalia in particular have deteriorated significantly in recent months. Should the spring rains fail, and humanitarian aid be unable to reach people in need, famine could be a real possibility there.”
Oxfam is responding to the crisis and has already reached 150,000 people in Ethiopia, including at schools and health centres, with plans to double the number to 300,000 in coming days as well as scaling up its work in the other two countries.
Making sure highly affected areas are reached as quickly as possible with the right humanitarian assistance and support to build people’s resilience to drought was critical , Ms Quartermaine said, especially in light of the major food crisis which unfolded in the region just over five years ago.
She highlighted that much work had since been done in the Horn of Africa to build people’s resilience and prevent the worst impacts of drought. But these gains had been hampered by the cumulative effects of a particularly strong El Nino in 2015-16 and other climatic shocks.
“We must act now to protect the hard won progress since 2011 and to prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe,” Ms Quartermaine said.
Oxfam encouraged the Australian Government, which was one of the most generous country donors to the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011, to provide funding to support early action.
“We know that taking preventative action and responding early will help save lives and is far cheaper than waiting for a major emergency to occur and then providing relief,” Ms Quartermaine said. “The time to act is now.”
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