Horn of Africa wracked by climate change-fuelled drought

Horn of Africa wracked by climate change-fuelled drought Dead live stock lie on the outskirts of North Horr, Marsabit, Kenya 21/12/2021 Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide
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Loss of jobs, hunger and poverty are pushing girls and women out of education and into forced marriage and prostitution due to a prolonged dry period, Chai Brady writes

Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are facing a severe drought which is affecting the poorest communities most in a climate change-driven crisis they are unable to tackle without support.

While the effects of climate change can be seen across the world through scientific measurement, ranging from the  barely noticeable to easily observable, it is in these fragile states that the true human cost of the crisis exists.

Regional Director of the Horn of Africa for Irish charity Concern, Amina Abdulla, spoke to The Irish Catholic from Nairobi, Kenya, about the work being done on the ground and the disproportionate challenges the countries face.


Ms Abdulla said: “The resources at the disposal of many countries in the west and even some countries in the global south to deal with some of the challenges presented by changing climate is not available to these countries, so the impact is severe. It is borne by the poorest people living in this region, from destroying their livelihoods to deepening the levels of hunger experienced.

“It is further exacerbated by the fact that we have other crises that are ongoing in the region, including conflict. Many of these countries are considered to be fragile states… So there’s a combination of crises.”

Pastoralists, who have been working the same job their whole lives, are having to sell their cattle to survive and there is evidence across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia that huge numbers of animals have died due to the drought.

“For pastoralists, their way of living revolves around their livelihoods, it’s not just a source of food, it’s tied to traditions, it is tied to status and social capital,” Ms Abdulla explained.

Loss of livelihood is leading to “deepening levels of hunger”, with people resorting to mechanisms that would “definitely strip them of their dignity and their capacity to get out of poverty – deepening the intergenerational poverty for these communities”.

Families and communities are generally then forced to move out of their traditional homes and into the towns closest to them in search of employment.

Ms Abdulla warns there are major risks for children in this scenario, saying: “Of course you will have kids in the streets, either working polishing shoes for people, as errand boys or girls for traders in the market and that puts them at risk of being abused, being exploited and there are unfortunate instances where some of these kids, particularly girls, end up in prostitution… or even mothers, finding that prostitution is the only option they have to be able to provide for their families.

“The protection risks are huge for families that have taken the decision to move out of their traditional areas because of the drought in search of other means of income or livelihood.”

However, the risks associated with staying at home are enormous, even leading to family members dying of starvation.

Education for girls

The risks to young women in particular are heightened with Ms Abdulla saying they have seen an increase in female genital mutilation (FGM) in certain regions and more girls being pulled out of education.

“FGM is considered as one pathway to marriageability for some of these communities, so we’ve seen an increase of FGM amongst girls,” she said. “We’ve seen an increase particularly of girls being taken out of school to be married off because unfortunately this is one way that the family can get something to sustain them but it is also the reality of one less mouth to think of in terms of food.

“It is a negative coping mechanism and it is a future destroyed if you have a girl taken out of school and subjected to forced early marriage. It has limited her opportunity and probably subjected her to a life of poverty.”

Concern take a three-layered approach in order to make people more resilient to shocks such as the current drought, this is at household, community and local authority/government level.

Ms Abdulla said: “What Concern is doing at the moment is actually responding to the immediate needs of affected families by providing cash transfers that allow them to buy food and other household needs, but also looking beyond cash transfers.

“We make sure that health and nutrition services are available to these communities. While we may think that the immediate need, the immediate risk, is food, there are others services and other needs that actually make them vulnerable.

“So if you’re providing food but they don’t have access to clean and safe water that makes them vulnerable to other issues, diseases, but it also presents other protection issues for women and girls because they’re the ones who would traditionally go out in search of water, so we provide this basket of services as a way of dealing with their immediate needs.”

Thinking six months down the line regarding what is needed to get communities to the point in which they are able to withstand future shocks and build resilience includes focusing on diversifying their means of livelihoods, Ms Abdulla explained, saying “we are, in parts of Kenya, in parts of Somalia, working with pastoralists to look into crop production as part of that diversification.

“Of course this means employing climate smart, climate sensitive production techniques and putting the infrastructure in place required to allow them to engage. Some of these practices are very simple.

“Of course where it is possible we also look at a system wide approach not just at the household level but also at a community level in terms of what mechanisms need to be put in place – working with communities on setting up simple early warning mechanisms around their traditional system.”


Looking at local authorities, or government institutions, where they exist, Concern work with them to set up the relevant systems around provisional health and water services, strengthening whatever system that already exists around education and making sure the protection of young children, specifically girls, is strengthened.

“We have great success stories in some of the countries but unfortunately this current crisis comes at a time where we have had to deal with Covid as well so the capacity that would have been there had we not have had a pandemic, would have been different from our current capacity responding to this crisis,” Ms Abdulla said.

Although preventative responses are much more effective, with Ms Abdulla saying one dollar early is ten dollarzs saved in emergency response, this window of opportunity has passed.

She said: “We need to help these communities ride this period and for Concern public donation and funding from donors allows us to do that. These are lives we’re talking about, these are people that have needs, kids, ambitions, and need to look forward to a future. Us not responding actually means we are sentencing the hundreds of thousands of children that are at risk to certain death. Are we comfortable with that as a global community?”

Ms Abdulla added that Legacy donations are “very important” for Concern’s work as “it is what keeps us in these communities for the period needed to build resilience, address factors that drive poverty and actually create impact in the lives of women and children in these communities and all of this is key to breaking that intergenerational cycle of poverty”.

Anyone looking for more information about Legacies can call Siobhán O’Connor on 01 4178020, email siobhan.oconnor@concern.net or visit www.concern.net/legacy