The UN refugee agency on Tuesday warned that the risk of mass deaths from starvation among the people of Horn of Africa, Nigeria and Yemen is increasing amid a severe drought.
The UNHCR also warned that a repeat of the Horn of Africa drought of 2011, which cost over 260,000 lives with more than half of these children aged below five, must be avoided at all costs.
“This warning is in light of droughts that are also affecting many neighbouring countries and a funding shortfall that has become so severe that an avoidable humanitarian crisis in the region, possibly worse than that of 2011, is fast becoming an inevitability,” the UN agency said in a statement.
According to the UNHCR, already displacement is rising, forcing it to upgrade the agency’s displacement estimates for 2017.
It said consecutive failed harvests, conflict in South Sudan coupled with drought is leading to famine and outflows of refugees while insecurity in Somalia is leading to rising internal displacement where rates of malnutrition are high, especially among children and lactating mothers.
UNHCR said internal displacement dynamics in Somalia are shifting too, adding that of the half a million people displaced since November 2016, 278,000 were displaced in the first quarter of 2017.
More than 72,000 of these have moved to the capital Mogadishu while some 69,000 others have headed to Baidoa in the country’s southwest.
Somalia continues to see a complex situation of both outflows and returns (mainly from Yemen), it said.
UNHCR said a further 1 million people are now on the brink of famine in parts of South Sudan, where UN agencies warned in February that fighting, insecurity, lack of access to aid and collapsing economy had left 100,000 people facing starvation.
The UN agency said in total some 20 million people in the Horn of Africa countries, Nigeria and Yemen are in areas affected by drought, 4.2 million of whom are refugees.
“In Sudan, for example, where our initial estimate was for 60,000 arrivals from South Sudan this year, we are in the process of revising the expected total upwards to 180,000. Similarly in Uganda we are revising planning from 300,000 displaced to 400,000,” it said.
In the Dollo Ado area of southeast Ethiopia for example, acute malnutrition rates among newly arriving Somali refugee children aged between 6 months and five years are now running at 50-79 percent, said the UNHCR.
The agency also said children account for the majority of refugees (62 per cent, for instance, in the case of refugees fleeing South Sudan) and in common with other refugees nearly all are dependent on food assistance via our sister-agency WFP.
“With no money to buy food, rations however are being cut. In Djibouti rations have been cut by 12 per cent, in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda by between 20 and 50 per cent, and in Uganda by up to 75 per cent,” UNHCR said.
It said many refugees are without full access to livelihoods and agriculture or food production and their ability to take matters into their own hands and help themselves is limited.
The agency also says some 175,000 students in drought-hit areas in Kenya have stopped attending school while almost 600 schools have closed in Ethiopia.
“In all, some five million children could in the coming weeks and months see their educations being disrupted,” UNHCR said.
In Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with almost 19 million people in need of humanitarian help, around 17 million people are food insecure.
UNHCR said the situation is particularly bad in parts of northern Nigeria where seven million people are now struggling with food insecurity and need help.
SOURCE: Business Daily