By Sharon Atieno

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region still has one of the highest levels of food and nutrition insecurity in the world with one out of five people globally who is acutely food-insecure coming from the region, a new report finds.

According to the IGAD 2020 Global Report on Food Crises, 27.6 million people in six IGAD member states (Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia) were in crisis or worse. Three major crises in the region were among the 10 worst food crises in the world, namely Ethiopia (8 million), South Sudan (7 million), and the Sudan (5.9 million).

The highest shares of acute food security prevalence were found in South Sudan, where 61 percent of the analysed population was in Crisis or worse, followed by Ethiopia (27 percent), Kenya (22 percent), Somalia (17 percent) and the Sudan (14 percent).

There has been a steady rise in acute food insecurity levels, with the number of people in need of urgent food insecurity between 2018 and 2019 increasing by about 650,000 people. South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda contributing to the rise.

The report further indicates that weather extremes, conflict/insecurity and economic shocks continued to be the main drivers of acute food insecurity across the region in 2019.

Drought and flooding were the primary drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where collectively 13.2 million acutely food-insecure people were in need of urgent food assistance.

Armed conflicts, communal violence and other localized tensions continued to disrupt peace and security in the region, and formed the primary driver for 8.5 million people facing acute food insecurity, the report reads. This is attributed to intercommunal tensions and violence in South Sudan, and refugees fleeing to Uganda from their home countries.

“Economic shocks formed the primary driver of acute food insecurity for 5.9 million people in the Sudan, where the ongoing macroeconomic crisis caused staple food prices to spike, with serious implications for food access since a large share of the population buys rather than produces their food,” the report notes.

Children too have been affected, with 13.6 million children below 5 years being stunted (too short for their age), with the highest numbers being registered in Ethiopia, the Sudan and Uganda.

The contributing factors include sub-optimal infant and young child-feeding practices- low proportion of children who receive a diverse diet from 6 -23 months- food insecurity, lack of access to adequate safe water and sanitation facilities, and disease.

The report projects that 24- 24.5 million people will face acute food insecurity requiring urgent action in 2020, largely as a result of weather extremes, insecurity and economic shocks without taking into account the effects of COVID-19.

The heavy rains experienced from March in the region, created ideal breeding conditions for the most severe desert locust infestation in decades posing a dangerous threat to agricultural production.

Factoring in the COVID-19 crisis, Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) estimates the total number of food insecure people in crisis or worse to reach between 28.1 and 33.5 million people. World Food Programme (WFP) projects an increase of up to 100 percent from 25.8 million people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance.

“In both agencies’ analyses, the largest number of food-insecure people is expected to remain in rural areas, though the majority of the population increases due to COVID-19 impacts will likely be among urban poor households. The impact will be high for informal sector workers, casual labourers and the self-employed, as well as humanitarian aid-dependent displaced people living in overcrowded camps, people in slums and low-income workers,” the report adds.