Worst drought in 60 years hitting Horn of Africa

The worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa has sparked a severe food crisis and high malnutrition rates, with parts of Kenya and Somalia experiencing pre-famine conditions, the United Nations said.

More than 10 million people are now affected in drought-stricken areas of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda and the situation is deteriorating, it said.

"Two consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in one of the driest years since 1950/51 in many pastoral zones," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a media briefing.

"There is no likelihood of improvement (in the situation) until 2012," she said.

Food prices rise

Food prices have risen substantially in the region, pushing many moderately poor households over the edge, she said.

A UN map of food security in the eastern Horn of Africa shows large swathes of central Kenya and Somalia in the "emergency" category, one phase before what the UN classifies as catastrophe/famine - the fifth and worst category.

Child malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas are more than double the emergency threshold of 15 % and are expected to rise further, Byrs said.

High mortality rates among children are reported, but she had no figures for the toll.

Dramatic rise

Drought and fighting are driving ever greater numbers of Somalis from their homeland, with more than 20,000 arriving in Kenya in just the past two weeks, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said. It voiced alarm at the dramatic rise, noting the average monthly outflow had been about 10,000 so far this year.

Almost half the Somali children arriving in refugee camps in Ethiopia are malnourished, and those arriving in Kenya are little better, Byrs said.

UN humanitarian appeals for Somalia and Kenya, each about $525 million, are barely 50 % funded, while a $30 million appeal for Djibouti is just 30 % funded, she said.  (Reuters Health, June 2011)

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