Rains that usually fall from October to December failed to appear in late 2010 in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
In 2011, spring rains were erratic and deficient. As a result, many areas missed two growing seasons. Food and fodder is running short, and rising prices mean few can afford to buy any food from more fertile areas.
How many are affected?
Experts estimate more than 11 million people are facing food shortages as crops have failed and livestock has died. Thousands are fleeing strife-torn Somalia to seek food in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Is this a famine?
The United Nations declared a famine July 20 for the southern regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle in Somalia. The United Nations said conditions there represent the worst food security crisis since a famine in Somalia in 1992.
The food crisis in the rest of East Africa has not reached the stage of famine, although rising malnutrition rates are of concern, particularly among children under age 5 and especially in the Somali refugee population. Catholic Relief Services staff and partners are working diligently to prevent the crisis from becoming a famine.
What is CRS doing?
In Ethiopia, CRS is leading a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that involves working with nine other humanitarian organizations to distribute food. The reach of that effort is expanding from 400,000 to 1 million beneficiaries. CRS is working with Caritas Ethiopia to identify other critical needs. For more than half a century, CRS has been working in Ethiopia on projects that bring drinking water, improved sanitation, irrigation and other agricultural projects to communities, helping to improve their well-being and build resiliency to natural events, such as droughts.
In Kenya, CRS and partners are responding to the needs of the Somali refugees and their local hosts, who are themselves suffering because of the drought. Through our many ongoing water, sanitation and agriculture projects in Kenya, CRS is also responding to Kenyans' needs during this crisis. The CRS agencywide Emergency Response Team, based in Nairobi, is playing a leading role in our response to the crisis.
What does the future hold?
What will happen next is weather dependent. If the fall rains appear on schedule, they will be a great help, although we still must ensure that farmers have seeds to plant, because the crop failure has left many without seeds. If the rains do not appear or are deficient, then the food crisis will worsen considerably as hunger becomes more acute and displacement more widespread. If the rains are too strong, falling on the parched ground, they could wash away crops and lead to flooding.