By Naomi Kitur

The below-average rainfall season faced by the Horn of Africa region will likely intensify ongoing drought and significantly worsen food insecurity until 2022, a report by Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) finds.

Currently, FEWS NET estimates up to 20 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda will need food assistance through mid-2022 due to not only the impacts of drought, but also conflict, insecurity and economic challenges including the complex humanitarian emergency in Northern Ethiopia.

The report reveals that multiple regional and global forecast models are of the same opinion that October to December (OND) 2021 rainfall will be below- average owing to negative Indian Ocean Dipole and La Nina conditions.

Research on historical climate patterns suggest high probability of a fourth consecutive below- average rainfall season from March to May 2022. The region last witnessed a four-season drought in 2016/2017, which led to severe acute food insecurity in the eastern horn.

The onset of the OND 2021 rainfall season is already delayed in the eastern Horn, and weather forecasts indicate very dry conditions will likely persist through at least the end of October.

Although a timely rainfall onset is alleviating drought in much of Uganda, the next rainfall season in Uganda’s Karamoja Region will not occur until April 2022.

Due to preceding seasons of poor rainfall, the impacts of drought on food security are already evident across central, southern, and southeastern Ethiopia and most of Somalia, Kenya, and Karamoja.

Available assessments of the July/August 2021 harvests indicate that cereal and pulse production ranged from 30 to 50 percent below average in southern Somalia and southeastern Kenya. The annual harvest in Karamoja, Uganda, and the national belg harvest in Ethiopia were also below normal.

In many pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, pasture availability is 20-40 percent below normal and water sources are drying up, leading to a typical livestock migration, high water prices, and declines in livestock health, value, and milk production.

There are already reports of hunger-related livestock deaths in parts of southern Somalia and parts of Ethiopia’s Oroma Region, FEWS NET reveals.

In addition, diverse economic shocks, such as rising fuel prices, currency depreciation and inflation are constraining household purchasing power. In Kenya for example the price of livestock has fallen by 15-30 percent compared to last year.

Amid these alarming trends in food availability and access, delayed and below average OND 2021 season is expected to further erode household food and income from crop and livestock production especially in the Eastern Horn.

Based on rainfall performance in past OND seasons with similar climate conditions, rainfall totals are projected to be over 40 percent below average in crop-producing areas of southern Somalia and coastal Kenya and in most pastoral areas of Somalia, northeastern Kenya, and southeastern Ethiopia. Elsewhere, rainfall deficits are projected in the range of 25-40 percent below average.

Given these deficits, historical crop production data suggest cereal crop losses will most likely exceed 20 percent of average in southern Somalia and southeastern Kenya. Crop losses will reduce local food availability and demand for agricultural labor, thereby contributing to spiking food prices and lower purchasing power before and after the January/February 2022 harvests.

Past trends also show household livestock holdings will most likely stagnate or decline and milk availability will be low, resulting from poor livestock reproduction, hunger-related disease incidence, and household coping strategies that include culling or selling off their livestock.

FEWS NET’s livestock herd model suggests goat and sheep herd sizes could drop to 20-50 percent below normal during the OND season in several pastoral livelihood zones. In a worst-case scenario where OND rainfall fails, excess livestock mortality would further accelerate in the subsequent January/February 2022 dry season.

The report recommends that national governments and donors must urgently scale up and sustain food, water, nutrition, and health assistance as well as livelihood protection programs to prevent severe acute food insecurity, rising acute malnutrition levels, and the erosion of resilience and coping capacity through at least mid-2022.