Roundup: Food shortage worsens in East Africa amid prolonged drought

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The number of severely food-insecure people across the Greater Horn of Africa has increased to 22.9 million in February as a prolonged drought led to failed harvests.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that drought in the Horn of Africa is expected to intensify in the coming months, with a delayed start to the rainy season and depressed levels of precipitation forecast for March-May in most of the Horn.

"Needs are driven by successive episodes of drought, which have led to consecutively failed harvests, combined with conflict and insecurity, and economic shocks affecting the most vulnerable," OCHA said in its latest Humanitarian Outlook report released in Nairobi.

According to the UN, the impact of the drought is largely comparable to the El Nino-induced East African drought of October-November 2010, which caused a regional food security and nutrition crisis in 2011.

Extensive crop failures and record low vegetation, together with significant livestock deaths, are currently observed across Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and coastal Kenya.

The report says Western Kenya, parts of south-western Ethiopia, parts of southern Sudan and the central and eastern part of Uganda are moderately affected.

Pasture and water resources for human and livestock consumption are at critically low levels across wide swathes of the region, particularly between Somaliland and southern Ethiopia, the UN said.

The report comes after famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in South Sudan, while the humanitarian situation in Somalia is rapidly deteriorating and famine is a strong possibility in 2017.

Across the country 4.9 million people are expected to be severely food insecure from February to April, and 5.5 million by July, at the height of the 2017 lean season.

"Severe drought, rising prices, continued insecurity and access limitations, and depressed rain forecasts suggest famine is possible again in Somalia," OCHA warned.

The food insecure population in Somalia increased from 5 million in September 2016 to over 6.2 million in February.

"This includes a drastic increase in the number of people in "crisis" and "emergency" from 1.1 million six months ago to nearly 3 million projected for February to June," it said.

OCHA said conflict has been the major cause of displacement across borders and a threat to peoples' security.

It said there are 4 million refugees and asylum seekers in the region, and most of the newly displaced come from South Sudan. More people have fled South Sudan since July 2016 than Syria in the whole of 2016.

"There is a risk of a further escalation of violence in South Sudan. In Somalia, the increased fragmentation of armed groups and the pull-out of foreign troops are worrying developments," said the UN.

The report says humanitarian space continued to be constrained across the region due to insecurity, bureaucratic impediments and financial limitations.

It said the volatile and insecure operational environment in South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and eastern DR Congo made it especially difficult and costly to respond to growing needs.

"Al-Shaabab attacks are on the rise in Somalia and in Kenya's northeastern border area. In Kenya, tensions and localized conflicts are set to rise ahead of national elections scheduled for August," the UN said.

"Inter-communal violence is expected to increase in drought-affected areas as pastoralists journey with their animals looking for increasingly limited water and pasture resources," it added. Endit

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