Drought in the Horn of Africa

A Somali refugee seen with her child inside a stabilisation centre at the IFO-1 camp part in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing lands in Somalia due to severe drought and arriving in what has become the world's largest refugee camp. Photo by Sanjit Das

A Somali refugee seen with her child inside a stabilisation centre at the IFO-1 camp part in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing lands in Somalia due to severe drought and arriving in what has become the world's largest refugee camp. Photo by Sanjit Das

The Horn of Africa has been ravaged by one of the worst droughts in decades. In many places there have been no rains at all for two years, pushing almost 13 million people to the brink of starvation as their soil is reduced to arid dust.

While many East African countries, including Kenya, have been affected by the lack of rain, in Somalia the problem has been exacerbated by persistent conflict between the Islamist al-Shabab group and government forces.

In Dadaab camp, north-east Kenya, thousands of Somalis have been arriving every month in a final attempt to escape hunger and instability in their homeland. It is already the world’s largest refugee camp and if the influx continues its population is expected to reach more than half a million by 2012.

Meanwhile, as the world focuses on Somalia and the starving refugees pouring across the Kenyan border, Kenya is on the brink of its own famine with some 3.5 million people at risk of malnutrition. Acute malnutrition in the remote Turkana district near the Ethiopian border already afflicts close to 38 per cent of the population: to declare a famine the number only needs to be over 30 per cent. But the region is so out of the way, so remote that it is hard to confirm the other terrible statistics that meet the international yardstick for famine. The government there insists no Kenyans have yet died in the drought, but the truth is they don’t know. In Turkana, even the death rate is uncertain.

Only brittle thorn bushes and graying Acacia trees grow. Emaciated figures – once proud herders of huge numbers of livestock – slump by the road trying to sell scraps of charcoal to passers by that never come. Their last resort in times of hunger used to be the berries on the trees, but these disappeared three months ago. Even the camels – unable to cope with the hunger and thirst – are dying now.

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