Record Drought Threatens Millions in Eastern Africa

More than 10 million people are desperately in need of food assistance in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the World Food Program estimated this week, as the worst drought in 60 years continues to ravage eastern Africa.

The situation in Somalia in particular is the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world,” the U.N. refugee agency said on Sunday, and child deaths at refugee camps are spiking to three times average emergency levels.

At the Dadaab camp in Kenya, more than a thousand new refugees are arriving each day, traveling days and even weeks from their homes in Somalia seeking food and medical attention.

Alexandra Lopoukhine is working with CARE to provide supplies to the camp inhabitants and the many thousands squatting outside the camp limits. There are nearly 380,000 people living in Dadaab, making it the largest refugee camp in the world, but it was built to hold just 90,000 people, she said.

The influx of new refugees has increased from about 200 a day in March to more than 1,600 a day now.

“People were facing insecurity already, you add in drought you add in this weather and you have people at a breaking point,” Lopoukhine said. “We are hearing some families are literally having to leave their children behind on the way [to the camp].”

The drought has cost farmers their crop yield this year, caused the loss of valuable livestock and driven prices of food in the markets to an unattainable level. Refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia are reporting between 15 and 50 percent of children arriving in the camps are malnourished.

Lopoukhine said the situation is especially dire this year because the rainy season fell short in 2010 as well, so the effect of lost crops is compounded. CARE and other agencies on the ground are trying to reach those in need who have not been able to make their way to camps, but additional resources are needed. The group has already been forced to cut the allotment of water to each refugee as they try to build the camps’ water and sanitation capacity.

The World Food Program said it will need at least $477 million to meet hunger needs in the region.