A “fierce famine” that spans the Horn of Africa, leaving 20 million at risk of starvation in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, has become the most dire emergency the region has faced since the Second World War, according to the United Nations. And author Nadifa Mohamed, who lived through Somalia’s mid-1980s famine as a child, points to climate change as an underlying factor.
“Famines were commonplace across the world, but the last five decades have seen them generally limited to Africa, particularly to East Africa,” Mohamed writes. “Temperatures have risen in already arid parts of the continent, by 1.0°C in Kenya and 1.3°C in Ethiopia between 1960-2006. Communities across the region report droughts occurring every one to two years, rather than the previous every six to eight years.”
She adds that “this climatic transformation is also seen in West Africa, and when combined with conflict, food price spikes, and political and economic marginalization, the result is famine, even in countries as wealthy as Nigeria.”
In Somaliland, where people depend on livestock exports for 70% of their income, “lack of rain in three consecutive years has meant that 10 million goats, sheep, and camels have already perished. Food prices have escalated, and families must decide whether to stay with their livestock, in hope that the rains will arrive and be strong, or become refugees in their own country, looking for aid in whatever dusty camp has space for them.”
While places like Somalia are often, easily referred to as failed states, “the people facing drought and hunger aren’t passive victims, simply waiting for charities to save them,” Mohamed stresses. “Families, especially women, make superhuman efforts to get by before they are finally forced to ask for help: meals reduced, new trades found, possessions sold, children dispersed, miles crossed.”
But ultimately, “famine is a symbol of failure in both a local and global community. The funds needed to prevent famine in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria are far from being met by the international community.” The UN Appeal for Somalia is far below target, and the Trump administration has focused its dollars in Yemen and Somalia on military intervention rather than humanitarian relief.