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Trapped between extremes: Drought and flood induced food and livelihood crisis in the Horn of Africa

Climate variability and the increasing frequency and intensity of weather extremes due to climate change pose multiple challenges. They aggravate risk and impacts, affect all dimensions of food security and nutrition (availability, access, utilization and stability), disproportionally impact the social groups in the most vulnerable situations and add pressure on land and water resources and fragile agrifood systems and ecosystems.

Across the eastern and Horn of Africa, extreme climate events, particularly drought and flood have had a significant adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable populations in the region. These climate phenomenaundermine agricultural and livestock production and exacerbate hunger and undernutrition and lead to poverty.

As reported in the IGAD Food Crisis Report of 2023, in 2022, 55.45 million people faced crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity in seven of the eight IGAD member states (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, the Sudan and Uganda), the highest number on record.

Whereas slow onset drought related crises in the eastern and Horn of Africa subregion are not a new phenomenon, their frequency and intensity has risen sharply over the past decade. Although with less frequency and intensity than drought, flooding due to excessive rain has become led to food insecurity and livelihood crisis in some countries in the sub-region.

According to the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre’s recent report, in the IGAD region, floods have become increasingly frequent and intense due to climate variability and change, resulting in 10.7 million new displacements between 2008 and 2022, related to 291 flood disasters reported.

Furthermore, as various reports indicated, Somalia and neighbouring countries in Eastern Africa have been hit by heavy rains since early October 2023 causing devastating flooding and compounded the impacts of the recent prolonged drought (deemed to have been the worst in 40 years)with livestock and livelihoods decimated. Prolonged and extreme dry conditions also increase the risk of flash floods, trapping communities in a drought-flood cycle.

Addressing the impact of recurrent drought and occasional occurrence of floods cannot be achieved without adopting a holistic approach and leveraging the power of partnerships to engage more effectively and creatively in addressing these challenges. As a major stakeholder in efforts to address hunger and food insecurity caused by extreme climate events and other shocks,FAO has been playingan important role in fostering strong partnerships with national governments and Regional Economic Communities, as well as non-state actors both at national and regional levels.

The strategic partnershipthat FAO built with major national and regional counterparts such as the Inter-governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the East African Community (EAC), as well as the African Union Commission (AUC) are cases in point in this regard.

As a technical agency, FAO’s support in addressing the impact of climate change and extreme weather events is directed mainly towards developing national and regional capacities in various areas including climate smart agriculture, resilience building, early warning and anticipatory action, disaster risk reduction and management, and development of appropriate policy and institutional frameworks and promoting community-level actions to strengthen resilience.

Extreme climate events such as drought and flood do not have to be humanitarian disasters, as the impact of the disaster could be considerably contained and even fully managed with strong political commitments, as well as developing and implementing appropriate policies such as early warning/early action, disaster risk management policies and plans by national governments.

As communities inthe eastern andHorn of Africa continue to make their living from pastoralism and agro-pastoralism for the foreseeable future, it is important that governments and other stakeholders invest more and make current pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihood strategies more productive and more resilient so that they can withstand crises.

National governments need to address the underlying causes of vulnerability and poverty that make people’s lives so precarious to shocks; as well as addressing political impediments which make them slow to respond to crisis and take necessary action to tackle the impact of drought. It is also necessary to put in place social protection programmes that includeeasily scalable safety nets to address the needs of those lacking the resilience to cope effectively with the effects of droughts, floods, and other shocks.

By Yergalem Taages Beraki

(Yergalem Taages Beraki is the food security officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation (FAO) – Sub- Regional Office for Eastern Africa.) 

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