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Group Warns Drought Worsening in East Africa as More Rains Fail
By Alan Boswell | Nairobi
Aid group Oxfam says millions of people across East Africa are fighting for basic survival after another consecutive rainy season failed. The next rains are not expected in many of the hardest-hit areas until April - although there is no guarantee these will come either.
Large parts of East Africa have been suffering under a drought now for months - and in some cases, for years. El Niño rains were to provide some wet relief to the area, but they fell more moderately than expected and missed many of the areas most in need.
Parts of northern Kenya, northeastern Uganda, central and eastern Ethiopia, and Somalia, including Somaliland, are some of the areas most affected.
The deputy humanitarian director at Oxfam, Jeremy Loveless, just returned from a visit to drought-hit Somaliland. He describes what he witnessed.
"What we were seeing was areas that looked like you would expect them to look in a couple months time, which means that clearly there was not enough rain in this last season and it did not go on long enough," said Jeremy Loveless. "There will be very serious stress on animal welfare before the next rains come. And given the fact that animals are the main source of income for these people, this is very serious indeed."
Loveless says that rains have been "poor and patchy" in parts of the wider region for at least four years.
The group reports that over 1.5 million domestic animals have died across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, with herders in Somaliland reporting that they have lost over 70 percent of their herds. Things are so desperate that some families in Kenya reported selling cattle for as little as $4 a head, about 2 percent the normal price.
In the northern Kenya region of Turkana, the group says that nearly one-third of the population is malnourished and 1.4 million people are reportedly in need in Uganda, 5 million in Ethiopian, 3.6 million in Somalia, and 1.5 million people in Tanzania.
Rain charts show that normal drought cycles have been more frequent in parts of the East and Horn of Africa region for more than a decade.
Many point to global climate change as the source of the quickening pattern, although most acknowledge no clear evidence exists to concretely link the two.
Fears the droughts could be signaling a long-term regional climate shift has sparked some environmental activists to warn of future crises of "climate refugees," as parts of the region become increasing inhospitable and some people are unable to suitably adjust to their changing homelands.
Loveless says that the drought cycles have recently become so relentless, that even a fully functional rainy season will now not be enough to get many of the region's inhabitants back on their feet.
"The problem we have is that with each drought, people become more impoverished, and they do not have time to recover their savings and their income before the next drought occurs," he said. "So we are getting increasing impoverishment and one reasonable rainy season in some parts of the region is not enough to bring people back to where they were before."
Somalia is said to be suffering from its worst drought in two decades, as it has now experienced six poor seasons of rain in a row.
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