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Why East Africa’s Facing Its Worst Famine in Decades

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A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in the Horn of Africa, which is in the grip of its worst drought in at least four decades. More than 20 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to find enough to eat, and over 1 million have fled their homes, according to the United Nations. With forecasters seeing a high risk of rains failing for a fifth consecutive season and aid flows falling short of what’s needed, the region is at risk of a famine that’s on a par with -- or even worse than -- one that Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s and claimed an estimated 1 million lives. 

Malnourishment is already widespread, especially among children, millions of whom need treatment. Millions of head of livestock have died, vast swathes of cropland have been decimated and rural communities have been torn apart as families migrate in search of food and grazing. Many parents can’t afford to keep their children in school, drop-out rates have soared and there are reports of girls as young as nine being married off for dowry payments or to ease economic pressure on households. The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said he’d seen starving babies who were too weak to cry when he visited Somalia in September. The UN expects a famine to be formally declared in parts of Somalia in the last quarter of 2022. The classification is assigned to areas where at least a fifth of households face an extreme lack of food, at least 30% of children suffer from acute malnutrition and at least two out of every 10,000 people die daily from starvation or a combination of hunger and disease.