We need a two-track approach to the current hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa

Women draw water from a well in Ethiopia. (Photo credit: EU / ECHO / Anouk Delafortrie ; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing their worst drought in 40 years. Four years of insufficient rain has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the region, and with scientists predicting a fifth failed rainy season, we are on the brink of catastrophe, with alarming rates of malnutrition and millions at risk of starvation and death as famine looms.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and expecting different results. Unless we want to continue this disaster cycle and fund life-saving humanitarian responses to tackle famine every few years, grantmakers and donors need to be more strategic by funding smarter, sooner and more consistently.

Funders must commit to a two-track approach that helps communities in the Horn of Africa build their resilience and adapt to the new cyclical drought patterns before it’s too late. Click To Tweet

How did we get here?

Are we surprised that we find ourselves here? No, we knew this was coming.

The Horn of Africa is not new to drought. Drought in this region is cyclical, and in the past, it was often manageable. Approximately every five to six years, the area would suffer a period of drought as one of the rainy seasons failed. A single failed rainy season can cause hardship, but communities could plan for this and store previous harvests for the lean season, which they knew would come.

Since 1999, however, on average “poor March to May rains are coming every two to three years.” Families cannot sustain the impacts of increasingly prolonged drought periods and don’t have the chance to recover fully from the devastating effects of the last drought and hunger crisis before the next one arrives. During these periods, in desperation to survive consecutive lean seasons, families spend any savings they might have, sell off the last of their productive assets and engage in other negative coping strategies. They’re left with little to nothing to help them regain their footing and recover when the drought is eventually over.

Humanitarian actors are often too late to respond because there is not enough early action from donors who have promised to learn from previous emergencies and to act with urgency on the data, science and predictions alerting us of what will almost certainly unfold. We can’t wait until famine-like conditions arrive when the humanitarian imperative of saving lives trumps every other form of assistance. (Remember what happened between 2010-2012 when 260,000 people starved to death in Somalia?)

Due to the impacts of a changing climate, the longer duration and higher frequency of droughts look here to stay, so longer-term solutions are required. We need new solutions while we scale up existing programs already proven to work.

Responding to the urgency and long-term impact

CDP decided in 2021 to make building resilience to drought and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa a priority of its Global Recovery Fund and its COVID-19 Response Fund. Then, the data showed us that hunger and malnutrition were on the rise and more failed rains were likely.

We also know from earlier experiences that early action not only saves lives but can build a family’s resilience and coping mechanisms over the long term so that they can withstand the regular cycles of drought through the use of new, climate-smart approaches and solutions.

Below is a list of the grants that CDP has made from its Global Recovery and COVID-19 Funds since the beginning of 2022 to address the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa:

  • Concern received a $250,000 grant from CDP’s Global Recovery Fund to improve resilience capacities among vulnerable households to respond to and cope positively with the effects of the current drought and future climatic shocks in Turkana County, Kenya. The project will achieve this by improving immediate access to basic needs, restoring local agriculture production through climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive agriculture, and increasing access to adequate and safe water for multiple purposes.
  • Mercy Corps received a $750,000 grant from CDP’s COVID-19 Response Fund ($375,000) and Global Recovery Fund ($375,000) to respond to the devastating socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and the compounding effects of the severe drought in the Horn of Africa. Adopting a market-based, systems approach, the program will kickstart the recovery of livestock-based livelihoods by supporting vulnerable pastoralist households (emphasizing females and youth), critical livestock market input and service providers, and reinforcing linkages between them. Mercy Corps will approach the program in a way that protects lives and livelihoods in the immediate term while building resilience for longer-term adaptation to the impacts of climate change, COVID-19 and other crises. Additionally, it will conduct research to develop further the body of evidence on outcomes of activities focused on enhancing resilience in the Horn of Africa.
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC) received $500,000 from CDP’s COVID-19 Response Fund ($350,000) and Global Recovery Fund ($150,000) to address the secondary economic impacts of COVID-19 and drought on vulnerable households and communities, and to build community and local institutions’ resilience against future disaster risk and food insecurity. IRC will achieve this by improving the capacities of COVID-19-, drought- and conflict-affected smallholder farmer households (especially women and youth), communities and their institutions.

We have also recently launched a separate Global Hunger Crisis Fund to address the dire food insecurity in the Horn of Africa and the worsening situation in many other countries, compounded by the impacts of the war in Ukraine. Click on the fund link for information about how you can help alleviate hunger and prevent avoidable deaths from famine. You can also access more information about the hunger crisis in our separate Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis profile. 

The time to act is now

The situation in the Horn of Africa is already an emergency, and donors must act immediately by increasing funding for urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance to avert preventable starvation and death. Click To Tweet

We must also learn from the past by adopting a two-pronged approach: As we respond to support immediate relief efforts, donors need to act with the same urgency to simultaneously invest in the longer-term solutions required to save lives, support recovery, build resilience and ultimately break the hunger cycle for the most at-risk communities in the Horn of Africa.

Alex Gray

Alex Gray

Director, International Funds