By Sharon Atieno

With forecasts produced by the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) showing that below-average rainfall will likely continue throughout April and May, the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group urges immediate and coordinated planning by governments, donors and all concerned stakeholders to respond to this potentially deteriorating food security and nutrition situation.

Around 10.7 million people are currently food insecure across Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Karamoja region in Uganda. Although the food insecure population is lower than numbers observed during the drought of 2017 (15.3 million people), there is a high risk of a worsening situation due to forecasted rainfall deficits.

Analyses from ICPAC, shows that rainfall levels through mid-April will likely be amongst the driest on record since 1981 in some areas. Southern Kenya, much of Somalia, Somali region of Ethiopia, and localized areas of Uganda will be predominantly affected.

Current projections for cumulative rainfall totals for the entire season (1st March to 31st May) suggest that much of the region will receive rainfall totals that are between 51 – 75 percent of average.  However, Southeastern Kenya will likely be worst affected, as totals may be only 26-50 percent of normal.

The rains during the remainder of April will be a key determining factor for seasonal performance and future food security trends. However, should forecasted below-average rains materialize, this would be the second consecutive poor rainy season across many areas.

Moreover, in pastoral areas, the widespread nature of the rainfall deficits could limit opportunities for livestock migration thereby, worsening food insecurity and nutritional outcomes in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda, with a peak between June and October and highest severity in worst-affected Kenya and Somalia.

Crop production would also be below average in marginal agricultural areas of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. This, along with the potential of lower than average production of key regional players such as Uganda and Tanzania, could cause price increases and reduce access of poor households to basic food supplies.

It is against this backdrop, that the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group have called for the use of crises modifiers when applicable, and immediate activation of early action mechanisms, reminding all partners that responding to severe water shortages is about providing the right type of livelihood support at the right time of the season.

The Working Group had earlier on recommended regular monitoring of developments using both remote sensing and joint field rapid assessments in worst-affected areas with particular emphasis on:  performance of the 2019 long rains, crop production levels and cereal supplies (regional and national), pasture, water, and livestock body conditions as well as typical livestock movements.

Other areas to be monitored ranged from prices of key cereals and livestock, livestock-to-cereal and labor-to-cereal terms of trade, food security outcomes (food consumption, livelihood change, nutrition and mortality), integrated management of acute malnutrition (outpatient therapeutic programme and supplementary feeding programme) exit outcomes/indicators to supply chain pipeline for Ready-to Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).

In addition to monitoring, they gave several suggestions including activation of early actions focusing on strengthening rural agricultural livelihoods (animal feed, water, vaccinations, market support) in worst-affected areas to mitigate the likely food security impacts of an upcoming prolonged and severe lean season as well as release of drought-related contingency funding to enable timely early actions and response.

The food working group also recommended preposition of required goods for emergency response (food, nutrition support, water, medical supplies) in advance of the expected peak in needs between June and October; planning for recovery support to cropping households in advance of next cropping season (short rains); mapping current and planned interventions to ensure a more coordinated response and strengthening the existing food security information systems and coordination plus, strengthening programs that ensure peaceful livestock migration and reduce tensions between transhumant pastoralists and host communities in advance of likely typical livestock movements.