More Than a Decade of Drought - Impacts and lessons learned across the Eastern Horn of Africa 2011—2022

Publication language
Date published
24 Feb 2023
Thematic evaluation
Horn of Africa

The ongoing drought, which started in late 2020, is the most severe to hit the Eastern Horn of Africa in the last 60 years and the situation is likely to continue in 2023. In addition, preliminary forecasts show that it is possible that there will be a 6th consecutive below-average season in parts of the drought-affected areas.

The 2020-2023 drought emergency has been worsened by the concurrent macro-economic shocks. These include ballooning external debt, rising costs of imports including for fuel and food; and higher inflationary pressures potentially undermining prospects of economic recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic.

Droughts have combined with these factors in driving high malnutrition prevalence rates among children under 5- years and Pregnant and Lactating Women (PLW) and elevated mortalities owing to huge consumption gaps. An estimated 5.1 million children were acutely malnourished in drought-affected areas of the Eastern Horn of Africa as of December 2022. While malnutrition remains a concern in drought-affected areas, mass mortalities have so far been avoided thanks to increased assistance in most-affected areas.

The 2011 drought led to a declaration of famine in Southern Somalia after two consecutive failed seasons. In 2022, famine was averted Somalia despite five consecutive failed seasons thanks to an increase in humanitarian assistance and commendable response by local communities in two districts of Bay Region in southern Somalia. However the risk remains high going into 2023.

As of the end of December 2022, the ongoing drought had left approximately 23 million people severely food insecure across the region (Kenya- 4.4 million, Somalia- 6.7 million and Ethiopia 11.8 million). In comparison, the 2011 and 2016/17 droughts left 11 million and 15 million people severely food insecure, respectively.

In all three severe drought events, below-average rainfall combined with warmer-than normal temperatures resulted in: rangeland degradation and poor vegetation, and severe water shortages. These negatively impacted on livelihoods and food security of the people in affected areas.

During the 2011, 2016/17, and 2020-2022 drought periods, spikes in food inflation occurred due to rising food prices.

Lessons taken from the 2011 and 2016/17 droughts have been implemented to some extent. There has been an improvement in early warning systems, years of resilience investments as well as enhanced coordination and partnerships which created an enabling environment for humanitarian access except in parts of southern Somalia. However, responses are still underfunded and the likelihood is that they will remain so going into 2023.

The establishment and expansion of government social protection systems over the last decade has helped improve responses to acute food insecurity. Furthermore, the focus on building resilience at the local level has also allowed communities to respond swiftly.

Nevertheless, there are still significant challenges despite these improvements. For example, the social safety nets have so far been mainly used to respond to shocks rather than anticipate them, as they receive insufficient funding and need to be scaled up.