Horn of Africa drought crisis


Horn of Africa drought crisis

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1032/Holt
A severely malnourished baby lies in the paediatric unit at the District Hospital in Lodwar, Turkana region, in northern Kenya. Malnutrition rates are very high in parts of Kenya affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa.

The drought in the Horn of Africa has resulted in a double crisis for children in Kenya

There is the refugee crisis, brought on by the unprecedented influx into Dadaab Camps of Somalis forced out of their country by the worsening drought conditions.  Each day, desperate Somalis cross the border to seek help at the already-overcrowded camps at Dadaab in northern Kenya. In the last two months alone, the three camps in Dadaab have received new arrivals at a rate of about 1,200 every day, raising their population to 393,189 persons, including 221,840 children. The refugees, most of them children and women, get to Dadaab in poor state of health, with many children being severely malnourished. They require urgent help to avert deaths.
The other crisis, which is equally dire, is taking place in communities crippled by drought in the arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya. The drought has left 3.2 million Kenyans in these areas in need of food aid. The worst affected regions are Turkana, Mandera, Marsabit, Moyale and Wajir. The urban poor are also adversely affected by the rise in food prices.

The double crisis is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children
Compared to the first two months of the year, the average weekly admission of severely malnourished children in drought stricken areas has doubled while that for moderately malnourished has increased by 23 per cent. In the worst-affected areas in northern Kenya, weekly admission of children less than five years with severe malnutrition is 1,600 while for children with moderate malnutrition it is estimated at 3,500. Rates of acute malnutrition are reaching up to 37.4% in parts of Turkana, putting children at imminent risk. Without immediate treatment, these children will suffer physical and mental disabilities for the rest of their lives, if they survive at all. At Dadaab, numbers of those admitted with severe and moderate malnutrition is on the increase with weekly admission standing at 673 and 550 respectively. Malnutrition leaves children so weak, they are easily vulnerable to the spread of killer diseases, including measles and diarrhea.

This is more than a food crisis, it is a crisis for child survival
Everything must be done to reach children in the worst-affected areas as quickly as possible to prevent any further loss of lives.

UNICEF Response
UNICEF is working with partners to scale up life-saving efforts in therapeutic feeding, in providing access to safe water and sanitation as well as in preventing the spread of diseases through vaccination and health campaigns.

Responding to disaster

Emergency response activities are integrated into the different components of the Country Programme to address the needs to the vulnerable children, women and the elderly. UNICEF also has a comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Plan, which guides preparedness and response strategies for rapid onset emergencies; these focus primarily on response strategies for drought and floods. 

UNICEF also plays a key role helping build the Government of Kenya’s capacity to respond to the drought and flood emergencies.  Coordination of drought response is guided by the Office of the President, and includes three sub-committees handling Health and Nutrition, Water and Sanitation and Education.  The chairs of the three sub-committees are appointed by the Permanent Secretaries of the three coordinating line ministries; UNICEF serves as co-chair and provides technical support to these committees.

The District Steering Groups have the authority to manage the emergency response within each district. The task of the national sub-committees’ is to coordinate support requirements to the districts from the national level, to provide technical support where necessary and to provide oversight to district emergency activities to ensure, for example, a minimum of duplication in support provision. 

The sub-committees also compile information on what the state has been doing to respond to the drought and to summarize the support requested for by the government from civil society and international partners in development. 


District officials are the primary sources of information on progress in emergency response. The information is verified where possible by the short rains assessment mission coordinated by Office of the President. Information on Water and Sanitation is based on district databases maintained by all District Water Officers on the major sources of water combined with water trucking requirements.  Health and Nutrition information has recently been supplemented by the publication of the Ministry’s budgeted plan for expansion of therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres.  The education information is based on a rapid assessment of the situation and requirements coordinated by District Education Officers.  

Improving coordination

The committees have made their best efforts to seek complete information on support provided or planned commitments by civil society and international partners.  Considerable effort is made to encourage any potential international or civil society support donors to consult with the sub-committees as to current needs and gaps, although some donors and agencies continue to operate without such consultation. 

The process of increased participation of line ministries in coordinating emergency response is also not without setbacks. The Health and Nutrition sub-committee suffers, for example, by too-frequent changes in the chairmanship.  Overall, however, the government has gone to increased and considerable lengths to lead to re-allocate resources to support emergency response.



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