By James Ochieng

The number of food insecure people in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region which includes Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia is expected to rise from about 31 million to about 37 million in 2021, a recent report reveals.

This will be mainly due to conflict, extreme weather and persistent economic shock (including the socio-economic repercussions of COVID-19).

The prevailing food security situation in the region was revealed during the launch of the Regional Focus on the IGAD Member States of the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) Report. The report is a culmination of a joint analysis led by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN), under the Global Network Against Food Crises, that provides a comprehensive regional picture of the food security and nutritional situation.

In 2020, it is estimated that 31.4 million people across the IGAD region were classified in crisis or worse levels of acute food security in 2020. The figure represents 20% of the global 155 million people that faced food insecurity and required aid that year.

As of December 2020, there were over 4.2 million refugees and asylum seekers in IGAD region around half were from South Sudan. They face heightened levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition because of their limited livelihood options and assets as they depend on humanitarian food assistance to meet their minimum food and nutrition needs.

The GRFC report estimates by the end of 2020, the global goal of achieving ‘zero hunger’ by 2030 seemed increasingly out of reach. This follows another annual rise in the numbers of acutely food-insecure people in need of urgent food, nutrition and livelihood assistance.

The report focuses on food crises where the local capacities to respond are insufficient, prompting a request for the urgent mobilization of the international community, as well as countries  where there is ample evidence that the magnitude and severity of the food crisis exceed the local resources and capacities needed to respond effectively.

There were three main key messages that were highlighted during the launch of the report;

Three countries in the region were among the 10 worst global food crises Sudan with 9.6 million people in crisis or worse, Ethiopia with 8.6 million and South Sudan with 6.5 million. These three countries accounted for nearly 79 percent of the IGAD region’s population in crisis or worse.

At any point in time in 2020 across the eight IGAD countries, an estimated 3.5 million children under 5 years were wasted, with 0.9 million requiring life-saving treatment for severe wasting. Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan had the highest number of wasted children. Children with wasting are too thin and their immune systems are weak, leaving them vulnerable to developmental delays, disease and death. A further 14.1 million across six IGAD countries were stunted, with the highest numbers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.

The region had over 4.2 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2020, an increase of 4 percent compared to the 4.04 million reported in 2019, and hosted around 9.5 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sudan and South Sudan, representing 20% of the world’s 46 million IDPs in 2020. Around half of the refugees were from South Sudan and others from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

During the launch Workneh Geneyehu, IGAD Executive Secretary stated that with the 20% of the global number of highly food insecure people residing in the IGAD region’ short term humanitarian intervention would not be enough.

He also added that there was need to initiate a paradigm shift to longer term view that inspires member states to come up with coherent, coordinated and cost effective development investments that target the root causes of food crises in the region.

Geneyehu also called for IGAD Members state governments, other regional, international and key stakeholders to work together in the spirit of multilateralism and global brotherhood to build efficient, effective, inclusive and resilient food systems to mitigate the effects of drought, fend off the possibility of conflict thus supporting durable peace for the people of the IGAD region.

David Phiri, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Sub regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa stated that given the worrying trends in the IGAD member state there was need to continue helping communities and individuals improve their food and nutrition security and prevent them from falling into hunger.

Michael Dunford, the regional director of World Food Program in Eastern Africa added that the region is one of the most food insecure regions of the world, with one in every five hungry people globally located here with most of the nations affected by macro-economic shocks, COVID-19 pandemic, adverse weather condition, on-going conflict and drought