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“Worst Food Crisis of the 21st Century” Driven by “Worst Drought in 60 Years” in East Africa, as Climate Change Makes Reduced Rainfall a “Chronic Problem”

by on July 6, 2011

“This is the worst food crisis of the 21st Century and we are seriously concerned that large numbers of lives could soon be lost.”

That’s from Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, who along with the Save The Children organization, is calling for $144 million in aid to malnourished East Africans.  “Aid agencies are calling it the worst drought in 60 years,” reports ClimateWire/NYT.

“… drought remains a major threat with no likelihood of improvement until early 2012. Millions of people in danger from drought plaguing East Africa.”

A joint report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), World Food Program (WFP) and the UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) sounded the call for action on the dire social and environmental crisis:

“The cumulative effects of the failed October to December 2010 rains and the insignificant contribution of early 2011 rains means that food security in lowland and pastoral areas will be classified at emergency levels in the coming months until the next rainy season between October and December 2011.”

The epicentre of the drought has hit the poorest people in the region in an area straddling the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where families rely heavily on livestock for survival. In some parts of the region, up to 60 percent of their herds have already died while the remainder are either sick or dangerously underweight. The price of animals has plummeted by half while the cost of cereals has soared. In Somalia the price of a main staple sorghum has risen by a massive 240 percent since this time last year.

Their excellent infographic of the situation in Ethiopia and surrounding countries illustrates how the crisis has unfolded since 2010 [click to enlarge].

While the scope of the impending disaster is immense, it hasn’t been getting a lot of media coverage. The UN agencies monitoring the situation are trying to sound the alarm and create more awareness. The New York Times reports:

Normally taking the lead in coordinating relief efforts in such cases, OCHA has been joined in a chorus of warnings by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme. All five U.N. organizations are working overtime to bring more publicity to the worsening situation in a news cycle dominated by the Arab Spring.

In June FAO officials declared that the persistently lower-than-average levels of precipitation in the eastern most part of the African continent had become “a chronic feature for the region.” Kenyan government officials have blamed climate change on a recurrence of droughts that have led to blackouts in Nairobi and increased cross-border violence with neighboring Ethiopia as pastoral communities continually shift their herds in search of water and forage.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue — it’s a social justice issue. And the poorest among us will suffer the worst.

– Tyce Herrman Source Climate Progress

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