By Muia Thomas

Food security recovery is likely going to take time following extremely poor and unpredictable rainfall patterns,  Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) says.

In a report provided by the FSNWG, at least 12-14 million people in Southern and South Eastern Ethiopia, arid and semi-arid lands (ASALS) of Kenya and Somalia will most likely experience high levels of food insecurity due to the ongoing drought.

Across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, at least 22.3 million people encountered food insecurity in 2021 which represents 77% increase considering the 2020 peaks. Malnutrition in the three highlighted countries rose to higher levels with at least 1.3 million children requiring treatment. In some areas, the rates of global acute malnutrition (GAM) frequently exceeded 15% creating an emergency threshold. This can be attributed to acute drought, locust invasion, the socioeconomic impacts of covid-19, armed conflicts especially in (Somalia and Ethiopia) and flooding.

The highlighted areas have experienced below-average rain seasons which puts food security in the regions at a great risk. Historical analyses of the past drought events especially in the East African region, including the drought emergencies that took place in 2010/2011 and 2016/2017 show that the below average seasons play a significant role in food security deterioration.

Crop production has also been greatly affected. In Southern and Central Somalia, the Deyr/short rains harvest, which majorly occurs in January and produces more than 40% of the total national output highly failed in the rain fed agriculture regions. This was attributed by crop wilting, widespread germination failures and the poor performance of the rainy season. Notably, the dismal rain performance in the upper Ethiopian highlands which are the catchment areas, and in Somalia has reduced the water levels leading to a 58% reduction in cereal production in 2021.

According to the report, pastoral conditions are in a very poor condition as a result of the below average rain seasons. Negative anomalies in Southern and Central Somalia, Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya has also threatened pastoralism in the area. However, Eastern and South Eastern Kenya witnessed above average December rains that significantly boosted vegetation conditions.

There will be severe food insecurity if the March to May rains turn out to be low or when they fail, the report says. If the rains completely fail and there is no humanitarian assistance to the worst hit households, chances are that people might encounter extreme food consumption gaps indicative of the catastrophe.

In this perspective, at least 15-20 million people would be put at the risk of food insecurity in the drought struck areas. This means that the nutrition circumstance would also be greatly affected, with at least 6.9 million children expected to be wasted in 2022, 2 million of them in a severe condition.

The uncertainty in the performance of the March to May 2022 rainfall season and the current severe drought, nutrition, health, non-food interventions, sanitation access, water, livelihood and large-scale emergency food, are thoroughly needed to urgently reduce the increase in food insecurity and nutritional outcomes.