War in Ukraine worsens hunger in East Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya — First, drought dried up rivers and claimed the lives of two of Ruqiya Hussein Ahmed’s children as his family fled the a...


NAIROBI, Kenya — First, drought dried up rivers and claimed the lives of two of Ruqiya Hussein Ahmed’s children as his family fled the arid countryside of southwestern Somalia.

Then came the war in ukrainepushing food prices so high that even after reaching the outskirts of the capital, Mogadishu, she struggles to keep her other two children alive.

“Even here we have nothing,” she said.

Across East Africa, below-average rainfall has created some of the driest conditions in four decades, according to the UNleaving more than 13 million people coping with intense hunger. Seasonal harvests are at their lowest level in decades, malnourished children are filling hospitals and many families are traveling long distances for help.

The devastating drought has covered most of Somalia, leaving almost a third of the population starving. In neighboring Kenya, drought has left more than three million people out of food and killed more than 1.5 million head of cattle.

And in Ethiopia, where a civil war has hampered the delivery of aid to the northern Tigray region, food insecurity is more widespread than at any time in the past six years. The first one food aid to Tigray in three months has arrived Friday.

Today, the war in Ukraine is further aggravating the crisis by increasing the price of grain, fuel and fertilizers.

Russia and Ukraine are among the region’s main suppliers of agricultural products such as wheat, soybeans and barley. At least 14 African countries import half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Eritrea depends entirely on it for its wheat imports.

“The conflict in Ukraine is aggravating an already complicated situation in East Africa,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of the charity Oxfam International, in a telephone interview. “East Africa is not on the global agenda now, but the region needs solidarity from the international community and it needs it now.”

The devastating drought and war in Ukraine are amplified by a series of crises over the past two years.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted food supply chains and forced many families to pay higher prices for basic foodstuffs. the locust infestation in Kenya, the civil war in ethiopia, extreme flooding in South Sudanthe growing political crises and terrorist attacks in Somalia, and the escalation of ethnic conflict in Sudan have all contributed to destroying farms, depleting crops and worsening the food crisis, aid groups say.

The war in Ukraine, now in its second month, is expected to cause other spikes food costs in the region. According to Sean Granville-Ross, regional director for Africa of Mercy Corps, a non-governmental organization, the conflict, depending on its duration, could reduce “the quantity and quality” of staples such as wheat.

“Meeting the basic needs of vulnerable populations affected by drought will become more costly and more difficult,” he said.

This worrying result is already evident in many parts of the region.

In Somalia, the price of a 20-litre can of cooking oil has risen from $32 to $55, while 25 kilograms of beans now cost $28 instead of $18, according to data collected by Mercy Corps.

In Sudan, the price of bread has almost doubled and some bakeries have closed because wheat imports have fallen by 60% since the start of the war, according to Elsadig Elnour, country director of the charity Islamic Relief.

Kenya, citing the war in Ukraine, also increased the price of fuelleading to protests in some parts of the country.

When famine strikes, children are particularly vulnerable. An estimated 5.5 million children in the region face high levels of malnutrition drought, according to World Vision, a Christian aid organization.

“My children died of starvation. They suffered,” said Ms Ahmed, whose children, aged 3 and 4, died during her days of walking from her home in Adde Ali village in Lower Shabelle region to the outskirts. from Mogadishu. “They died under a tree.”

In Mogadishu, families are already feeling the ripple effects of war in Ukraine, with rising food prices squeezing household budgets as the holy month of Ramadan approaches. Without a job, decent shelter or access to the beans, maize and tomatoes she once grew, Ms Ahmed now depends on food donations from supporters to feed her two surviving children, aged 7 and 9.

And aid programs are under strain. The war has affected the operations of the World Food Programme, which said this month it had reduced rations for refugees and others in East Africa and the Middle East due to rising costs and dwindling funds.

Some fear that the persistent drought in East Africa could resemble that of 2011, which killed about 260,000 people in Somalia alone. Although the situation has not yet reached this level, the funding and resources needed to avert such a crisis have not yet started to arrive, Oxfam’s Ms Bucher said.

Only 3% of the $6 billion the UN needs this year for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan has been allocated, she said, while Kenya got just 11%. of the $139 million needed for assistance.

Last week, the African Development Bank said it would increase up to $1 billion to improve agricultural production and help Africans become food self-sufficient in the long term. But while these initiatives are welcome, Ms Bucher said it was imperative that donors also give freely and immediately to avert a much wider crisis.

“The world must come to the aid of East Africa to avert disaster,” she said.

Hussein Mohammad contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.



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