Skip to navigationSkip to content

The Horn of Africa’s historic drought is the product of cascading failure

Kenyan woman walk with their donkeys carrying water after trekking for miles for water near the northern town of Wajir
Reuters/Antony Njuguna
The Horn of Africa region is also grappling with political instability, locust infestations and the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic, undermining its ability to cope with the drought.
Published Last updated

The Horn of Africa is in the grip of one of the worst droughts in decades as it faces an unprecedented fourth consecutive failed rainy season, thought to be caused by La Nina weather patterns and climate change. The UN has warned it could tip 20 million people into extreme hunger—and at worst lead to starvation—across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has worsened the crisis, pushing food and fuel prices to a near all-time high. The region is also grappling with political instability, locust infestations, and the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic, undermining its ability to cope with the drought.

Somalia has experienced a 45% increase in wheat prices. The country previously sourced 90% of its wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. While in Ethiopia the cost of a food basket has risen by 66%.

“We have never seen such a severe drought at a time where we’ve got such high levels of vulnerability,” Michael Dunford, regional director for eastern Africa at the World Food Programme (WFP), told Quartz.

“Countries are dealing with the macroeconomic impact of covid-19, the inflationary effects of the war in Ukraine and disrupted global supply chains. It is that culmination, plus the conflicts happening, that meant people were already vulnerable before the drought began.”

Tens of thousands of people are being displaced

Across the region, millions of livestock have died and crops have perished, destroying people’s livelihoods. Humanitarian organizations have warned that children are most at risk from the drought – with more than 1.7 million children requiring urgent treatment for malnutrition.

As people struggle to find enough food and water, the crisis has sparked a wave of climate migration. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) has estimated that drought conditions could displace over one million Somalis.

“We are seeing populations who have tried to hang on as long as they possibly can being forced from their homes and their villages because they have nothing left,” said Dunford. “They are coming into the cities and settlements looking for help to meet their basic requirements.”

A global gap in funding for the famine in the Horn of Africa

The dramatic acceleration of the crisis over the past six months has put additional pressure on donors and humanitarian actors to respond. Aid agencies have warned that there is a significant lack of funding to provide the level of assistance needed.

There are further concerns that the war in Ukraine has diverted international attention from the Horn of Africa.

While the UN has since announced they will support the region with nearly $1.4 billion, it still falls short of what is needed to address the drought.

In the longer-term, experts warn that climate change will continue to be a great threat to the region.

“We are seeing an increased number of climate shocks,” says Dunford. “Not just drought—in South Sudan we have had record levels of rain and flooding which are having a huge impact on that population. It is a range of climate impacts that are putting people at risk.”

🌍 Keep up with developments and emerging industries in Africa.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.