HORN OF AFRICA: “Urban poor the new face of hunger in a region where up to 14.6 million people now require humanitarian assistance…


Halkaan ka akhri

NAIROBI, 23 July 2008 (IRIN) – The urban poor in the Horn of Africa are the new face of hunger in a region where up to 14.6 million people now require humanitarian assistance due to poor rains, high food and fuel prices, conflict, animal disease, inflation and poverty.

 “The situation of the urban poor has worsened, they are now getting more vulnerable; it is no longer just the old caseload of drought-affected people; the urban poor need assistance as they continue to be adversely affected by rising food prices,” Peter Smerdon, a senior public affairs officer for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told reporters in Nairobi on 22 July.


Peter Smerdon, one of five UN officials and one from Care International who had called the press conference to highlight the food crisis, said WFP and other aid agencies were “pulling out all the stops” to prevent hunger from spiralling out of control in the region.

Besida Tonwe, head of the regional office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the urban poor were among those at greatest risk.

Some 20 million people live in slums across the Horn of Africa,” she said. “They are at the mercy of huge fluctuations in the price of basic family food that strip their purchasing power and deplete their savings.”

WFP urgently needs US$403 million to help people hit by drought and poor rains in Ethiopia ($200 million), Somalia ($100 million), Uganda ($50 million), Kenya ($35 million) and Djibouti ( $18 million) until the end of 2008.

“This is in addition to funds already being used to feed the hungry in the region,” Smerdon said.

In Ethiopia, he said, some 4.6 million people required emergency food aid for the rest of the year, because of drought in the southern, central, western and northeastern parts of the country.

Mark Bowden, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said although the conditions in Somalia were similar to those in the rest of the Horn, its situation was worse as it had had three consecutive years of drought, “each year more punishing than ever before”.

“The food and livelihood crisis in Somalia is already critical after very poor rains in the southern and central parts of the country this year, combined with violence and limited or no access to the affected populations,” Bowden said. [See:

“Country months away from major crisis”]

Tonwe added: “The emergency is exacerbated by the erosion of livelihoods among the landless, pastoralists, internally displaced persons and the urban poor across the regions. Disease outbreaks fuelled by poor hygiene and sanitation in drought-affected areas, and poor health and nutrition services, including low immunisation coverage, are additional high risks for mothers and children.”

She said Kenya was experiencing widespread food insecurity, with 1.2 million people needing food assistance and an estimated 70 percent of the overall population affected by rising food prices. Tonwe said staple food prices had risen by 30-50 percent over the past year, putting many groups at risk of hunger.

“At the same time, inflation has reached 26.6 percent,” she said. “A main driver behind the price rise is the drop in food production caused by post-election displacement in January and February 2008, mainly in the highly food-productive Rift Valley Province.”

WFP said it was feeding 900,000 people in Kenya’s arid areas because of below-normal rains in the north and northeast.

“That number may increase following the long rains assessment underway now,” Smerdon said. “Overall, Kenya faces an overall food deficit this year because of post-election violence that disrupted production and high fertiliser and fuel prices.”

In Uganda, Tonwe said, the northeastern region of Karamoja was experiencing a prolonged dry spell and crop diseases, in addition to conflict and under-development.

“There is a serious concern that a third consecutive year of widespread crop failure could afflict the region, which is fast approaching a worst-case food security scenario.”

WFP is distributing emergency food rations to some 707,000 people in Karamoja through the next harvest, due in September.

In Eritrea, the likelihood of drought this cropping season was high, according to OCHA, following the failure of the “Bahri” rains from October 2007 to February 2008. The agency said the “Azmera” rains from March to May 2008 had been below average.

“The combination of drought and the knock-on effect of global food price increases could affect a significant portion of the population,” OCHA reported.

In Djibouti, rainfall was 50 percent below the normal pattern, eroding pastoralists’ livelihoods. At least 80,000 people were in an acute food and livelihood crisis, OCHA said, while global acute malnutrition rates for children under-five had reached 17 percent, “with a peak of 25 percent in the northwest”.

Tonwe announced that the government of Djibouti and the humanitarian community had launched an appeal for $31 million to deal with the impact of the food crisis, in particular malnutrition.

Smerdon said WFP would increase the number targeted with food assistance because of drought and conflict in Djibouti from 80,000 to 115,000 – 80,000 in rural areas and 35,000 in urban areas – until September.

Source  Irin


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