‘This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for more than 10 years, said Oxfam’s East Africa director Paul Smith Lomas, who blamed climate change for the persistent five-year drought.
‘People are surviving on 2 litres of water a day in some places less water than a toilet flush. The conditions have never been so harsh or so inhospitable, and people desperately need our help to survive.
The high numbers of people affected more than double the number caught up in a similar food crisis in 2006, when 11 million were at risk underline the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for funding to prevent the crisis from getting worse.
Oxfam Canada launched an appeal for donations earlier this month and is participating in a joint appeal for funds with the Humanitarian Coalition, an umbrella organization representing Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec, CARE Canada and Save the Children. The aid groups come together in times of severe crisis to maximize the efficiency of donations.
British actress Helen Mirren, who visited Uganda with Oxfam, said: ‘We can turn things around and help these families but we need to act now, before it is too late. (Fifteen dollars) could support a family to get the food, cooking oil and soap they need to survive for five days. It can bring a family back from the brink.”
The worst affected countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda. Other countries hit are Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania. Malnutrition is now above emergency levels in some areas and hundreds of thousands of cattle are dying, leaving thousands of people without a source of food, milk or income.
In Wajir, northern Kenya, almost 200 dead animals were recently found around one dried-up water source.This is the worst drought that Kenya has experienced for a decade, and the worst humanitarian situation Somalia has experienced since 1991.
Rains are due in October but are likely to bring scant relief or worse still, deluges that could dramatically worsen the situation. There are genuine fears that the region could be hit by floods as a result of the El Nino phenomenon, which could destroy crops and houses, and increase the spread of water-borne diseases. Even with normal rain, the harvest will not arrive until early 2010.
‘Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa as raining seasons shorten due to the growing influence of climate change, Smith Lomas said. ‘Droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years.
The World Food Programme is facing a $977 million donor shortfall for its work in the Horn of Africa over the next six months. The government of Uganda appealed for donor money to tackle the food crisis, but has so far received only 50 percent of the funding it needs.
In Kenya, 3.8 million, a tenth of the population, are in need of emergency aid. Food prices have spiraled to 180 percent above average. Areas such as Rift Valley, which have never previously experienced a drought of this intensity are now affected. Desperate herders are taking their cattle further to look for water and food, sparking tensions with other groups competing for the same resources. Sixty-five people have been killed in Turkana, northern Kenya since June 2009.
One in six children are acutely malnourished in Somalia and people are trekking for days to find water in the northern regions of the country. Half of the population more than 3.8 million people â€ are affected.
In Ethiopia, 13.7 million people are at risk of severe hunger and need assistance. Many are selling their cattle to buy food. In northern Uganda farmers have lost half of their crops. More than 2 million people across the country are in desperate need.
Some 160,000 people mainly around the wild life tourist area of Ngorongoro in northeastern Tanzania are also at risk. In Djibouti there are worrying levels of increased malnutrition, while 88,000 people living in southern Sudan are particularly at risk.
The aid response to the crisis needs to rapidly expand, but it is desperately short of funds. People will still need aid to get them through a long hunger season.
Oxfam is expanding its aid effort to reach more than 750,000 people but is in desperate need for funds to do this work. Oxfam is supplying emergency clean water and access to food, and also carrying out long-term projects to strengthen people’s ability to cope with future shocks.