Horn of Africa Drought: Climate change and future impacts on food security

East Africa is facing the worst food crisis of the 21st Century. Across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation. Loss of life on a massive scale is a very real risk, and the crisis is set to worsen over the coming months, particularly for pastoralist communities.

It is no coincidence that the worst affected areas are those suffering from entrenched poverty due to marginalization, conflict and lack of investment. While severe drought has undoubtedly led to the huge scale of the disaster, this crisis has been caused by people and policies, as much as by weather patterns. An adequate response to the current crisis must not only meet urgent humanitarian needs, but also address these underlying problems.

Beyond the debate on climate change’s role in the current crisis in East Africa, one thing is clear. If nothing is done, climate change will in future make a bad situation worse. Urgent action is required at global and local levels if today’s food crisis is not to be a grim foretaste of future hunger and suffering.

Oxfam recomendations

To avoid catastrophic levels of global warming:

Urgent action is needed now by all governments to slash greenhouse gas emissions, if devastating levels of warming this century are to be averted.

  • The total current pledges of emissions cuts are inadequate, all governments must increase their efforts to keep the chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C within reach.
  • Developed countries must lead by increasing their current targets to cut emissions to more than 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and start to mobilize the $100 billion per year they have committed for climate action in developing countries.

To improve food security and strengthen climate resilience:

Even if action to cut global emissions is forthcoming, the inertial impact of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is such that East Africa faces decades of disruptive climate change. National governments and the international community should dramatically increase long-term investment towards building the resilience and boosting the productivity of pastoralists and smallholder food producers in the Horn of Africa. These efforts must focus on:

  • disaster risk reduction, to adapt both development and humanitarian strategies to ensure that they both reduce the risk of future disasters. Drought cycle management offers a useful approach which needs to be more effectively and consistently implemented by governments in the region.
  • climate change adaptation, to build the capacity of vulnerable people to thrive in spite of changes to the climate affecting their livelihoods. Better information about how a changing climate will affect farmers and pastoralists at the household level is needed, and in a form which is useful to them.
  • long-term investment in livelihood protection measures and smallholder food production, to start to reverse the economic and developmental marginalization in affected areas.