Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Lara Kajs | 14 March 2023 |

(Part 1 of a Series on Crises to Watch in 2023)
As the world continues to focus on the war in Ukraine, there are dozens of other humanitarian crises and countries with enduring conflict and displacement, that also need critical attention. The UN has estimated that this year, it will require US $51.5 billion to assist some 230 million people in at least 68 countries. In nearly every case, the situation is intensified by pre-existing vulnerabilities and inadequate access to services. The crises will not be solved without our leaders working together to find resolutions for the conflicts, making financial commitments to address the concerns that require immediate attention, and safe delivery of humanitarian assistance. By working together, we can help those in need, and bring peace and security to the many millions experiencing conflict and violence. We can do better.

Over the next few weeks, TGR will dig deeper into the countries and crises the global community should watch closely in 2023. The first in this series is the Crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Crisis in the Horn

For 150 years, the Horn of Africa, the Horn, as it is commonly referred to, has been part of a global power struggle. From control of the Red Sea by the British, to Egypt’s control of the Nile, to the role the African continent played in the Cold War, and to the US’s fight against the Global War on Terror, the Horn’s strategic location has served a critical purpose, usually to its own disservice.

The Horn is one of the most complex and conflicted regions in the world. Each of the countries in the Horn suffers from prolonged political discord, arising from local and national grievances, armed groups fighting against government forces and often each other, identity politics, and regional interstate rivalries. There are more than 35 non-international armed conflicts (NIAGs) in Africa, and many of them are in the Horn.

Adding to the struggles is the climate crisis, which has been catastrophic. Both Somalia and Ethiopia have been ravaged by severe drought, brought on by increasing temperatures and a disrupted rain cycle, that has left millions vulnerable to hunger, disease, and death. Acute food insecurity is a constant in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Nearly 80 percent of all people on the planet facing food insecurity are in Africa, although Africa accounts for barely 13 percent of the global population. Yet resolving this wide continuum of issues in the Horn and cultivating good governance remains a crucial and essential requirement to solving and realizing the region’s human, economic, and development potential.

The Crisis in Somalia

Somalia is facing unprecedented drought and hunger. Millions of Somalis are at risk of severe malnutrition, including more than half a million Somali children. Over 3 million livestock, nearly 75 percent of the country’s total, have died. At least 1.5 million Somalis have been internally displaced due to a lack of food and water. Many seek to relocate to areas where they can access international humanitarian supplies. The UN made an appeal for Somalia requesting US $2.6 billion to assist 7.6 million.

Decades of conflict have eroded Somalia’s ability to respond to attacks of any kind, destroying basic systems, and infrastructure that could have provided a shield against the current crisis. Famine risk continues for many in the country. Case in point: with Somalia’s food production destroyed, the country’s dependence on imports has been a disaster as more than 90 percent of its grain comes from Russia and Ukraine.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia

Humanitarian access has been blocked by an increase in insurrection by the Al-Shabaab militant group. The vast areas controlled by the group receive a trickle of aid if any at all. One reason is that NGOs fear that the group will attack aid deliveries. Another reason relates to the 2008 decision by the US State Department to designate Al-Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization and prohibit anyone in the US from funding the group. Many NGOs have declined to take the risk out of caution of breaking US policy and incurring penalties.

As the drought intensified, and local economies declined, Al-Shabaab increased taxes on the population. The group also taxed humanitarian aid as it entered the region. When local clans joined together against Al-Shabaab, the group retaliated by poisoning and destroying water sources and wells. The clans continue to fight back, supported by the new government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Elections were marked by a series of political crises and threatened by politically motivated violence, influenced by Al-Shabaab. An escalation between the group and government forces will likely intensify in 2023.

Crisis in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is heading into its sixth failed rainy season. Some 28.6 million people are currently experiencing food insecurity. The UN appeal for Ethiopia requires US $3.8 billion. At the end of 2022, only 42 percent of this was funded. UNICEF’s appeal for children was only 38 percent funded. Only 12 percent of people in drought-affected areas have access to health services. Less than 30 percent of the population have water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance. Limited access to safe drinking water has contributed to a cholera outbreak, particularly dangerous for children whose bodies have been weakened by insufficient food. Acute malnutrition cases increased by 21 percent in drought areas, with a higher risk for children under 5, as well as for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The impact of several conflicts across the country has hampered the ability of humanitarian organizations to access the crisis-affected communities with critical support. The economic impacts of the war in Ukraine and global economic conditions are straining Ethiopia’s resources. Inflation reached a high of 37.7 percent in May 2022, although pressures have eased, food prices remain high. The inter-communal conflict and violence, severe drought, social tension and unrest, flash floods, and seasonal flooding, have led to some 5.6 million internally displaced persons.

Unexploded Ordinances

Humanitarian partners reported incidents related to the presence of unexploded ordinances (UXOs), resulting in injuries and deaths. Partners in collaboration with regional mine action support have increased awareness activities to ensure the safety of the people at risk of UXOs and mines, including women and children. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is coordinating national defense support for IDP site clearing and mobilizing humanitarian partners for mine awareness and response.

Tigray Conflict

After two years of conflict in Ethiopia between federal government forces and forces from the Tigray region, a ceasefire was signed in November 2022. The peace agreement raised hopes of improved humanitarian access for at least 20 million people who have had limited access to food and resources throughout the conflict. However, it is unclear if the peace agreement will stick. Eritrean officials indicate that fighting in Tigray may resume.

In the western Tigray zone, an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigray population by officials, security forces, and militia continued up to the signing of the peace agreement. There are reports of starvation being used as a weapon of war and attacks against civilians’ health facilities, and schools in Afar and Amhara. Accountability for offenses that amount to atrocity crimes and crimes against humanity, has been inadequate, lacking transparency and independent oversight.

Conflicts in other regions, including with the armed group al-Shabaab, which has largely operated in Somalia, clashed with security forces in Ethiopia’s Somali region which could add to the challenges in 2023.

Photo Credit: Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa by IFRC. Licensed under CC by ND 2.0