The food crisis across East Africa has badly affected Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. Drought is one of the major factors, along with a number of other issues:
Failed or poor rains are becoming increasingly frequent, leaving communities with less and less time to recover.
In Somalia this is the fifth successive season of poor rains, in Ethiopia it is the fourth and Kenya the third. Communities in northern Kenya recall that rains used to fail once a decade, whereas now they fail every two or three years. The weather in northeast Uganda is also becoming increasingly unpredictable, with longer dry spells. When the rains do come it is often in the form of heavy showers causing floods and landslides. If the drought continues we will not be able to raise any animals as there will be no pasture or water. So we will have no money to send our children to school. If we can't get money from raising animals we don't know what else we can do.
Kadra Good, Harshin, Ethiopia
Although the price of staple foods and cereals has fallen since the peak of last year, it remains far above usual prices and unaffordable to many families. In Ethiopia the retail price of white maize– the staple most consumed by the poor – is still 72 per cent higher than the five-year average. In parts of Kenya, maize and beans are 170 per cent higher than normal, while in parts of northeast Uganda prices are 170 per cent above average for millet, 140 per cent for sorghum and 130 per cent for maize.
The cost of water is also rising – in rural Kenya a jerry can of water now costs three times its normal price. People are forced to sell their assets – such as livestock – to pay for food and water, alleviating short term hunger but exacerbating long-term problems.
Violent conflict in Somalia has disrupted food production and made poor people even more vulnerable. A quarter of Somalia’s population (1.8m people) have fled their homes, making it much harder to grow food. Roads are highly insecure, meaning food cannot reach markets. In Kenya, food production is much lower since the post-election violence and displacement. In northern Uganda, an influx of returning families after years of conflict has created new pressures. In Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, there are increasing problems with localised conflicts over scarce resources.
It is no coincidence that many of the areas most affected are rural areas which have suffered decades of neglect and under-development from successive governments, particularly in Kenya and Uganda. Groups such as pastoralists are particularly at risk. These are areas with little access to education, healthcare, water and sanitation – making them even more vulnerable.
African governments and international donors continue to under-invest in small-scale community agriculture and national food production, leaving countries vulnerable to global economic markets and trends.