By Sharon Atieno

With the October- December (OND) rainfall season expected to be below average in most parts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region especially the drought affected areas, urgent assistance is needed to address the worsening levels of malnutrition and food security.

This is according to a new report by the East and central Africa Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG).

In East and Central Africa, at least 57 million people in 10 of the 13 countries covered by the  FSNWG were highly food insecure and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in August 2022.

Of these, about 28 million were from six of the eight IGAD member states – Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The other 29 million were from Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Tanzania.

Over 82 million additional people were stressed, about 29 million of them from the IGAD region, and in need of livelihood support. Of particular concern are Baidoa and Burhakaba districts of Bay region in Somalia where famine is expected between October and December 2022. Moreover, six livelihood zones and four internally displaced persons (IDP) settlements in the country face an increased risk of famine through at least the end of 2022, FSNWG report finds.

Regional food security situation, as of August 2022 Credits: IPC-GSU for East and Central Africa

Further, high prevalence of acute malnutrition continues to be recorded across the region, especially in the drought-affected areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, and among displaced populations.

Exacerbating the situation in parts of Ethiopia and Somalia are conflict and insecurity incidents, and resultant humanitarian access challenges, as well as disease outbreaks, the report notes.

As of August 2022, an estimated 10.1 million under-five children were acutely malnourished across the eight IGAD member states, 2.6 million of them severely so.

In Ethiopia, an estimated 1.2 million children were in need of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) treatment according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The highest burden was in the conflict-affected regions of Afar, Amhara and Tigray, as well as the drought-affected regions of Oromia and Somali.

In the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya, 884,464 under-five children were estimated to be acutely malnourished, 222,720 of them severely so.

In Somalia, acute malnutrition is at critical levels in many areas, especially in the central and southern parts. The FSNWG report notes that the number of children being admitted to treatment centres is also rapidly rising, with some districts recording two-to-four-fold increases in admissions this year compared to the last three years.

“Overall, 1.8 million under-five children (54.5% of the total population of under-five children in the country) are estimated to suffer acute malnutrition through mid-2023. Of these, 513,500 are estimated to suffer severe acute malnutrition,” the report reads.

Notably, among the agro-pastoral populations in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts, and among IDPs in Baidoa town of Bay region, levels of crude death rate (CDR) and underfive death rate (U5DR) have surpassed the Emergency thresholds of one in 10,000 people per day and two in 10,000 under-five children per day respectively.

Similarly, in the Karamoja sub-region and refugee hosting districts of Uganda, SAM admissions are significantly higher this year compared to 2021. Between January and July 2022, UNICEF reports that 20,743 under-five children had been enrolled for SAM treatment in outpatient care (OTC) and inpatient care (ITC) in Karamoja (13,943) and in refugee hosting districts (6,800).

Moreover, the number of displaced populations in the region has been on an increasing trend, largely driven by conflict and climatic shocks. As of 31 July 2022, the region hosted an estimated 12.83 million IDPs and 4.97 million refugees and asylum seekers. The majority (2.29 million) of the refugees and asylum seekers were from South Sudan.

Besides immediate, coordinated and multi-sectoral assistance in these areas, the FSNWG report recommends significant scale-up of contributions to country humanitarian response plans, as well as to other existing and future funding appeals.

Also, it calls for rapid scale-up of nutrition interventions to treat malnutrition cases and prevent a deterioration in the overall nutrition situation. Additionally, mass screening exercises should be prioritised and 8 nutrition services expanded to areas with low coverage, the report says.

Scaling-up of livelihood programmes to safeguard livelihoods, and support recovery and return to self-reliance for households facing stressed or worse outcomes, is also recommended, as well as close monitoring of areas where the food security situation is already dire and at risk of further deterioration including areas projected to be in famine.

Further, the report suggests close monitoring of the upcoming OND rainfall season as forecasts point to high chances of below-average rains while also urging particular emphasis to be placed on anticipatory action to prevent and mitigate, the anticipated negative effects of the OND rainfall season on food security, nutrition and livelihoods.