Food crisis hits Horn of Africa

Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya

July 6, 2011

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    Drought and two decades of violence have forced Somalis to flee their country and seek refuge at the three Dadaab camps — the biggest refugee camp in the world, with more than 332,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia. Photo: Reuters/THOMAS MUKOYA, courtesy

The United Nations (UN) reported last week that the worst drought in 60 years has caused a severe food crisis in East Africa. Mercy Corps is concerned about the welfare of more than 10 million affected people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia — all countries where we work. According to Mercy Corps Africa Director Matthew Lovick, “There is already huge need — and it’s getting worse.”

The UN affirms that the drought is causing a crisis. “Two consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in one of the driest years since 1950-51 in many pastoral zones,” said a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In Somalia, river levels have reached historic minimums. The effects of the drought are exacerbated by increasing food and fuel prices, conflict and limited humanitarian access. The sharp spike in food prices has pushed many families into desperate need.

Mercy Corps is already bringing relief to hungry families and helping people achieve self-sufficiency so they can feed themselves in the future.

Here are some ways we’re involved:

  • Ethiopia: in response to the current drought, we are trucking in emergency water supplies and have expanded our emergency nutrition program to reach more of the worst-affected areas. We have also dispatched a four-person emergency response unit to find out what more we can do under these increasingly difficult circumstances. Under normal circumstances, we work to help farmers plant higher-quality seeds and control erosion to increase their crop yields and income.
  • Somalia: we are providing jobs to people who have been displaced by drought and conflict and the communities that host them. Parents earn income to bring home to their families by rehabilitating vital infrastructure such as water sources, irrigation canals, markets and roads.
  • Kenya: we are sending a team of experts to the Kenya-Somalia border to better understand the challenge and determine how Mercy Corps can best help address the crisis.

When food emergencies strike, Mercy Corps is quick to respond. In a crisis we often deliver immediate assistance to hungry families through food distributions. At the same time, we always focus on helping people feed themselves over the long term. That’s why our economic and agricultural projects are geared to self-sufficiency: teaching people to plant higher-yield crops and earn the highest possible prices for their harvests. Growing more food and making a better living are the best ways to ensure that families have enough to eat.

We are keeping a close eye on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa and are poised to respond as needed. Our teams on the ground are assessing the needs in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia to determine how best we can help.