Nahu Senay, Ethiopian Red Cross
One doesn’t have to go far from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, to see the effects of the drought smothering large parts of East Africa and threatening the lives and well-being of millions of people.
Driving through the Nairobi National Park, less than 10 km from the city centre, you will soon stop counting the dead zebras. There are not many animals around – the lions hide in the shade and the elephants are out of sight while the giraffes take leisurely walks along the roads and dirt tracks criss-crossing the park, nibbling at whatever looks reasonably green.
All of the East African countries, to varying degrees, find themselves in a similar situation due to insufficient rains and subsequent crop failures.
And now, as millions of people in Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa are fighting a daily struggle to stay alive and facing starvation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and its National Societies are working around the clock to prevent an evolving food insecurity situation in pockets around the region turning into a general famine with horrific consequences.
The International Federation has now issued a series of emergency appeals for a total of 20 million Swiss francs to provide food, water and livelihood support for nearly 800 thousand people in the five worst affected countries – Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Ethiopia.
“The food insecurity in these countries is constitutes a humanitarian crisis that is jeopardizing the well-being of millions of people,” says the Federation’s Disaster Management Coordinator for East Africa, Steve Penny.
“The drought is acerbating an already precarious situation in many of the countries due to pre-existing poverty, conflict and inadequate health and sanitation services.”
While Kenya has had some rain in the last 2-3 weeks at the onset of the main rainy season, it’s still not enough to guarantee the harvest needed in June-July. In the meantime, farmers, pastoralists and other vulnerable groups continue to be affected. The drought has begun to have region-wide impact as people move across national borders in seach of food, water, work or health services.
In Burundi, for instance, where more than two million people are affected, lack of rain is only one part of the problem: a large number of refugees from conflict are returning home from their camps in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Burundi’s case, these are the people the Federation has identified as in need of Red Cross assistance, as well as female-led households in vulnerable border communities.
The latest of five Federation emergency appeals for the food insecurity and health situation in East Africa is in support of these Burundians – aiming to provide them with small scale shelter, health services, water and sanitation and food, as well as making efforts to strengthen the Burundian Red Cross’s capacity to deal with the humanitarian emergencies at the national level.
To help tackle the enormous task already underway by the National Societies and the International Federation, the Regional delegation in Nairobi has set up a Food Security Unit which will oversee the operations in cooperation with the societies in the region. The unit includes a health delegate, water & sanitation specialist, logisticians, a food security expert and an operations manager.
A specialized FACT team has just concluded its assessments of the situation in the worst affected countries and the emergency appeals now being issued are based on the team’s work, as well as other agencies’ assessments, governmental assessments and other pertinent information.