East Africa drought questions and answers

Severe drought across the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti) has left over 12.4 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. In some areas, the current drought is reported to be the worst in over 60 years.

What is happening?

In Kenya alone, between 3.5-5 million people are reported to be in urgent need of food assistance and the situation is likely to continue to deteriorate over the next few months.

The next rains for the region are due in October and even these are not guaranteed. This leaves people hugely vulnerable over the next few months, and even into 2012, since the next time they will be able to harvest is early next year. With the continuing failure of the rains, people are in urgent need of humanitarian support to survive.

What are the causes of the current drought?

Over the past year, countries in the Horn of Africa has experienced two consecutive poor rainy seasons, resulting in one of the driest years since 1950/51.

The expected rains across large parts of the region (including north east Kenya and areas of Somalia) have either been insufficient or failed completely, resulting in crop failures, the death of livestock (from lack of water and pasture) and the failure of crops. Up to 60% of cattle have perished in some areas.

Climate change is exacerbating the impact of the drought. Droughts in this part of the world are becoming more frequent and more severe as a result of increasing global temperatures.

How are people coping with the drought?

Some families in Kenya have resorted to eating only one meal a day to conserve diminishing food supplies. School children are dropping out of school to help their families search for water, or to seek work to be able to buy food. We have met women who are binding their stomachs with rope or pieces of cloth in an attempt to stave off hunger.

Is it too late to do anything?

No. Urgent humanitarian assistance can still save lives now. By getting food and water to the most vulnerable people now we can help prevent further deaths and reduce suffering.

In the long term, we need to ensure that the work of the international community supports people to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of drought – by helping people diversify their livelihoods so they’re not so dependent on their livestock or crops; by building and maintaining sustainable water sources; and by helping people adapt to the impacts of climate change.

What is ActionAid doing?

In Kenya ActionAid is working in many of the worst-affected areas. We’re providing food supplies for families in the north and north-east of the country, and providing meals for schoolchildren to help keep them in education. We’ve also been working with communities affected by the drought. In Kenya our work has reached over 250,000 people to date.

What can ActionAid do that other agencies can’t?

We focus on reaching the most vulnerable groups, particularly women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Our long term, rights-based approach aims to support people to rebuild their lives and become less vulnerable to future disasters.  

How much more money does ActionAid need to respond to the crisis?

ActionAid is seeking £9m to respond to the drought and food crisis in Kenya. The funds are needed to reach an additional 150,000 people with essential supplies to help people survive the next few months, as well as to provide long term support on livelihoods, water systems and farming over the next 3 years, to help people become less vulnerable to future crises.

How do you make sure aid reaches the people who need it?

Ensuring aid gets to the people who need it most is crucial in emergency situations. ActionAid works with local partners who know the communities and local contexts of the countries we work in.

In most cases, our emergency response focuses on communities we’re already working with on longer term development projects, so we already have strong relationships with the people we’re aiming to help.