Rain brings mixed blessings for Horn of Africa food crisis

Published: 7 April 2006

Nairobi, April 7, 2006 - Recent rains in parts of drought-hit East Africa will not bring a speedy end to the food crisis there, warned Oxfam International today. In fact in the short term they could make the situation worse by spreading disease and blocking access for food aid.

Oxfam is warning that a short period of rain is not going to solve the severe humanitarian emergency and a rapid scale up in the humanitarian response is still crucial to avert further suffering and loss of lives.

The warning comes as Jan Egeland, United Nations Emergency Coordinator, calls on donors to provide more funding for the UN's regional appeal (Friday) during a visit to Kenya.

"With the coming of the rains in certain areas some people will begin to return to land where they usually graze their livestock - but this does not mean the end of the crisis. Far from it: initially the rain will exacerbate an already fragile situation," said Andrew Featherstone, Oxfam Regional Program Manager.

With the rains come new challenges to the relief effort:

  • Pastoralist communities crowded in urban centers to receive aid are now exposed to major threats from diseases, particularly malaria, acute diarrheal disease and cholera.

  • The rain is turning sandy tracks into unpassable muddy quagmires, making delivery of food assistance nearly impossibly in some areas.

  • The few surviving animals are very frail and unable to shake the rainwater from their coats. Large proportions of the exhausted and malnourished livestock could die due to the rains and change of temperature.

Oxfam is warning that several seasons of good rain are needed to ensure the region can recover. In many areas, well over 70% of cattle are already dead and the recovery process could take 15 years.

Reports from Kenya indicate that the crisis is now so severe that more than 30% of the health facilities for the local population in worst affected areas have collapsed, while as much as 40% of those still functioning are grossly under-staffed.

"The situation remains critical and more help is needed. Sadly, this crisis is going to get worse before it gets better. The message to governments, donors and the media is that a few days rain does not end a food crisis. Complacency at this stage could kill thousands," added Featherstone.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Beatrice Karanja, Oxfam Regional Media and Communications Officer for the Horn, East, and Central Africa (HECA), + 254 (0) 726 875 507 or + 254 (0) 20 282 0136