East Africa's drought likely to kill one person every 36 seconds

Somalia on the brink of famine declaration, experts say

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East Africa's worsening drought is likely to kill one person every 36 seconds until the end of the year, Oxfam warned on Friday.

Four failed rainy seasons in Ethiopia and Kenya — with another likely to be round the corner — that have decimated crops and rising food prices have left almost one in six people in Somalia facing extreme hunger.

Research from the NGO found the rate at which people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are dying of hunger has increased since May, when it estimated that a person was dying every 48 seconds.

Authorities are warning Somalia is on the brink of famine, stirring memories of the world's last large-scale famine, also in Somalia, in 2011. Then, 260,000 people died of hunger.

Thousands have already died this year, including almost 900 children, and the UN says half a million more are at risk of the same fate.

Etienne Peterschmitt, the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Somalia representative, also warned of the risks.

“The current drought is the worst that we have seen in the last four decades. It has affected about 7.8 million people,” he told reporters. “This is about half of Somalia's population.”

More than 1.8 million children under the age of five will face acute malnutrition through mid-2023, Mr Peterschmitt added.

Climate change is playing a large role in the warming of Africa, but issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which stalled shipments of grain that feed hundreds of millions of people, are compounding the crisis. Humanitarian donations have dropped, and what aid is delivered is limited by Al Shabab, one of the world’s deadliest Islamic extremist groups.

Oxfam GB Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah decried the lack of action from nations which have contributed most to climate change, and asked: “How many more people need to die before the world acts.”

He said on Friday: “People’s lives are being destroyed by a climate crisis they did nothing to cause. After four failed rainy seasons, their animals have died, crops have failed and their ability to cope has been stretched to breaking point.”

Oxfam's warning came as the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Red Cross rang alarm bells over extreme heatwaves exacerbated by climate change, saying they would make large areas of Earth uninhabitable for humans.

The bodies said future heatwaves would cause “large-scale suffering and loss of life, population movements and further entrenched inequality”.

Agricultural workers, children, the elderly and pregnant and breastfeeding women are at higher risk of illness and death, the report claimed.

“As the climate crisis goes unchecked, extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and floods, are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest,” said UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.

“The humanitarian system is not equipped to handle crises of this scale on our own.”

The UN has a $3 billion funding gap in appeals for Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.

Updated: October 16, 2022, 11:10 AM