More than 1.7 million people across the Horn of Africa have left their lives behind as a relentless drought threatens to drag into an unprecedented sixth season of failed rains. Affecting more than 36 million people so far, it is one of the longest and most brutal droughts in recent history.
DAADAB MARCH 24: Incessant hunger and chronic insecurity forced Rukia Yaroow Ali and her nine children to abandon their home in Jilib, Somalia, to seek shelter at the Hagadera refugee camp in northern Kenya.
– “My husband was a successful farmer, but when the drought hit, he wasn’t able to grow any food,” explained 38-year-old Ms. Ali. “The burden of providing for the family became too much, and there was constant friction between us. One day, he told me he was going out to look for work, but he never returned.”
Like Ms Ali and her family, more than 1.7 million people across the Horn of Africa have left their lives and homes behind as a relentless drought threatens to drag into an unprecedented sixth season of failed rains. Affecting more than 36 million people so far, it is one of the longest and most brutal droughts in recent history.
The majority of those displaced in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are women and children. Untold numbers are now living in crowded, unsafe and unsanitary camps, exhausted and destitute after precarious journeys in search of food, water and survival.
“I came here with nothing, and could not even get food or shelter for my children,” said Ms Ali. “I still owe a debt to the man who transported us here. I don’t know how I’m going to pay him.” She and her children are currently living in a shelter constructed from sticks and cloth on the periphery of the Hagadera camp, alongside other new arrivals.
Millions of families are under suffocating stress and hardship, with women and girls bearing a disproportionate burden. Basic but critical health and protection services have been interrupted in many areas, and essentials including contraceptives, menstrual hygiene products and even soap – where available – are being foregone to pay for food.
Family planning and maternal health care has been severely compromised, carrying potentially catastrophic consequences particularly for the more than 890,000 pregnant women who will give birth in the region over the next three months. In Somalia alone, nearly half of pregnant women who are displaced reported having no access to antenatal services, putting their lives and those of their children at severe risk.
Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women is also at alarmingly high rates, increasing their risk of illness and severe, if not fatal, pregnancy complications. An estimated 140,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women in arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya, 400,000 in Somalia and a staggering 1.8 million in Ethiopia are acutely malnourished and need urgent assistance.
As communities struggle with the worst drought in four decades, existing gender inequalities and the dearth of sexual and reproductive health services are exacerbating an already dire situation and endangering the lives of thousands of women and girls.
The Horn of Africa is veering into uncharted territory as the drought catastrophe takes grip, stalking the lives of millions already dealing with protracted conflicts, locust infestations and escalating food and fuel prices. To meet soaring needs, UNFPA is scaling up delivery of life-saving reproductive health and protection services and supplies and has launched an appeal for $113.7 million for the crisis across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.