Months of sustained drought have plunged 12 million people into hunger, forced many families to sell livestock and for others to leave home in search of food. Under these extreme circumstances, the aid agency believes many women and girls are at risk of increasing levels of violence and exploitation.
Following two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall the Horn of Africa region is suffering from an intense drought. Lack of rainfall in the worst affected areas has led to widespread crop failure and livestock death, causing families to sell their few remaining assets, such as their surviving animals, and to leave their homes in search of food and water. The United Nations now fears the situation could be worse than the 2010-11 famine which killed more than a quarter of a million people in Somalia alone. The UN estimates it needs $1.9 billion to deal with the crisis in the Horn of Africa, but warns it is grossly underfunded.
In Somalia, 6.2 million people urgently need help. In Somaliland, where 80 per cent of livestock has died as a result of the drought, ActionAid has reports of women and girls in dangerous circumstances, such as mothers reduced to eating one meal a day, children displaced and unaccompanied in the search for food and sexual violence increasing as women and girls search for water. ActionAid’s Country Director in Somaliland, Sadia Abdi, said:
“Right now in Somaliland hunger is wrenching apart whole communities and it is women and girls who are in the most danger. We’re already receiving reports of women and girls attacked as they travel far from home to search of water. With the worst hunger yet to come, the government, aid agencies and the international community must do everything in their power to save women and girls from sexual violence and exploitation, as well as starvation.”
In Kenya, where 2.7 million people need humanitarian aid because of the drought, ActionAid has recorded women and girls walking up to 70 per cent further in search of water, with some walking more than nine kilometres (six miles) not uncommon. ActionAid’s Policy Manager in Kenya, Ruth Masime, said:
“Women and girls in drought stricken parts of Kenya are making increasingly long journeys just to fetch water for drinking, cooking and washing and they run the risk of sexual violence along the way. As a result of the drought women and girls face a triple burden in some cases: to survive, care for their families and evade sexual violence in the process. Urgent action is needed to avert starvation, sexual violence and community breakdown.”
In Ethiopia, ActionAid has no reports of an increase in sexual violence or exploitation but is seriously concerned about the health of children under five and new and expectant mothers. There are 5.6 million people urgently need food aid in the country and a recent government-led assessment indicated there were three million mothers and children under five who were acutely malnourished. ActionAid’s Women’s Development Manager in Ethiopia, Eleni Tekalegne, said:
“Mothers and children face increasingly poor conditions as drought grips several parts of south and south eastern Ethiopia. We must act now to help protect women and children who are suffering hunger.”
The recent lack of rainfall and crop and livestock loss in the Horn of Africa has been worsened by man-made climate change, according to experts. The warming impact of the 2016 El Nino weather pattern had already caused drought in the East and Horn of Africa region, as well as hitting 400 million people globally. The World Meteorological Organisation has recently warned that in addition to already poor rainfall, a new El Nino pattern has a 35 to 40 per cent chance of returning this year and is likely to cause more severe weather-related shocks.
ActionAid is working in communities across Somaliland, Kenya and Ethiopia. In Somaliland, ActionAid is distributing food and water to people in drought affected areas, setting up water points and supporting women in communities to lead aid distributions and monitor aid effectiveness. In Kenya, ActionAid is supporting women in drought affected areas to demand women’s rights protection in government response plans as well as providing food to the most vulnerable families and rehabilitating water sources. In Ethiopia, ActionAid is providing long term development support in drought affected areas and plans to urgently scale up its response.