Increasingly severe malnutrition rates in the East African nations of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Tanzania have led World Vision to significantly scale up its response to the unfolding crisis.
Up to a third of children in some communities are reportedly affected by malnutrition, or double the rate at which a humanitarian emergency is declared.
UNICEF estimates that 480,000 children in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia will be severely malnourished this year.
World Vision has been working in these countries for many years and in February increased its activities in response to the deteriorating situation. However the severity of conditions after a third consecutive failure of rains has driven many people from their communities in search of food.
The number of people affected has grown from 7 million in March to at least 13 million in recent weeks, prompting the UN and humanitarian agencies to increase their assistance to affected families, and to seek greater funds for growing the response.
“Even though this region has a fragile environment and suffers from cyclical drought, this emergency is now one of the worst in decades,” World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello said.
“Much of the western world is focused on the risk of a return to a second global financial crisis but we cannot ignore the needs of millions of children whose lives may be at stake.”
World Vision’s responses include immediate work to providing food and clean water along with longer-term programs such as help for herders’ animals to sustain livelihoods, support to plant drought tolerant crops, and help for families to diversify their income sources to ensure droughts do not leave them without an income.
Despite World Vision long term development work incorporating resilience building components, this is the driest period in the since the early 1950s. Meteorologists predict the region may not receive normal rains until early 2012.
Prices for staple foods which are near the heights of the 2008 food crisis levels, are putting even the basics beyond the reach of more families. In Somalia, the price for red sorghum – a main food source – has increased by 240 per cent in 12 months, and maize in Ethiopia has more than doubled.