At the beginning of 2017, warnings were issued of imminent famine in parts of South Sudan, while the Somali and Kenyan governments declared national disasters due to the ongoing drought. In the event, famine was staved off in the region thanks to timely and robust intervention; however, the 2017 seasonal rains have not been sufficient to reverse the effects of the drought on crop production and food security in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Meanwhile, in South Sudan, the continuing conflict – it has now entered its fifth year – has meant the humanitarian crisis continues to intensify, with seven million people needing help this year (OCHA, 20 Feb 2018).
In Kenya, six counties (Isiolo, Kajiado, Tana River, Garissa, Kilifi , Wajir) are in alarm drought status and experiencing a worsening trend. The five counties in alert drought status are Mandera, Kitui, Marsabit, Taita Taveta and Tharaka Nithi. In addition, 13 of the 23 ASAL Counties (56%) are experiencing normal drought status. According to World Vision, 3.4 million people need assistance, but this figure is likely to fall over the course of the year (World Vision, 31 Jan 2018).
The situation in Ethiopia and Somalia is also not improving. According to FEWS NET, large areas of southeastern Ethiopia are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with humanitarian assistance preventing worse outcomes in some areas. Sustained, large-scale assistance is needed through at least mid-2018 to mitigate the risk of increases in acute malnutrition and a further deterioration of outcomes, particularly in Dollo, Korahe, and Jarar zones. Large-scale displacement due to conflict in late 2017 in areas along the Oromia-Somali border remains a concern.
In Somalia, says FEWS NET, the Deyr harvest, some milk availability, and large-scale assistance are supporting Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in many areas. Despite improvements, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely in August, in the absence of assistance, as many households have depleted key livelihood assets and a fifth consecutive below-average season is forecast (FEWS NET, 16 Feb 2018).
Meanwhile, in southern Africa, the fall army worm infestation shows no sign of abating, with concomitant effects on food security. Says FAO: “The pest is now present across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) except Mauritius and Lesotho. Partial fall army worm monitoring has pointed to Malawi as the hotspot in the 2017/18 season, and the country has since declared a national disaster” (FAO, 9 Feb 2018).
Indeed, the situation is so severe that a Special Alert was issued on 8 February 2018: “In the absence of consistent rains in February, dry conditions experienced in December to January will diminish water supplies for domestic, agricultural and commercial use. In other areas, including southern and central Mozambique, parts of southern Malawi and southern Zimbabwe, mild rains only returned in late January, by which time many crops had permanently wilted. Southern and central Zambia, southern Malawi and southern Madagascar continue to experience extended periods of below average rainfall and subsequent crop moisture stress. Even if normal rains are received during the remainder of season, it is likely too late for most of the early-planted crops to recover (FSNWG, 8 Feb 2018).