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Our Prayers for the Millions Affected by the Drought in East Africa

By Opportunity International

For the past two years, a drought has affected East Africa and has placed more than 10 million people at risk. The lack of rain, especially in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, has caused crops to fail, food prices to rise, and cattle to perish, reducing food sources and food security for the people. Unfortunately, there is no immediate end in sight, as rains are not expected in the near future and the harvest season will not occur for several months.

In Kenya, it is estimated that 3.5 million people are in a humanitarian crisis due to the drought — the largest number of any East African country. In Turkana, one of Kenya’s hardest hit areas, malnutrition rates have risen from 15% in 2010 to 37% today. Kenya is also struggling to accommodate the more than 1,000 people that cross the Somalia-Kenya border each day to reach the Dadaab refugee camp. At 19 square miles and close to half a million people, this camp resembles a large city. Somali citizens are walking days to reach this camp in order to escape both the drought and the civil war that until recently prevented humanitarian intervention. These new arrivals exacerbate the problems for people in Kenya, and the increased numbers of people make conditions in the refugee camps even more difficult.

Although governments and humanitarian organizations have pledged millions in aid, efforts must be made to prevent future crises of this magnitude. Kevin Cleaver of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) argued that although governments and their partners cannot make the rain fall, they can minimize the effects of such droughts. He emphasizes that research into drought-resistant crops and livestock fodder is needed.

For farmers in many of these regions, their crops and livestock are crucial to their livelihood. All of a family’s savings are invested into a cow or in the seeds planted each year. This makes Opportunity International’s goal of expanding weather-index crop insurance all the more important. Weather-index crop insurance, already established in Africa in Malawi, Tanzania and Rwanda (and in Asia in India and the Philippines), provides protection against crop failure caused by drought or excess rain. It also enables farmers to access credit in order to purchase quality seeds and fertilizers in order to maximize output. This insurance protects farmers who may lose an entire season’s crops to drought, and it ensures that they do not need to short-sell their harvest at a loss mid-season in order to pay bills and make ends meet.

At Opportunity, we look to the future, continuing to develop the tools to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and droughts, to help prevent such a humanitarian crisis from occurring. Our deepest sympathies go out to every one of the more than 10 million people affected, and we hope that you will join us in keeping them in our thoughts and prayers.

For a map of the areas affected by the drought, click here to see interactive map from The Guardian. For photos, click here to see a slideshow from the BBC, and see photos of Somalia from The New York Times by clicking here.

This post was written by Jacqueline Ryan, an intern in Opportunity’s Outreach & New Initiatives department. Jacqueline is an undergraduate student majoring in international studies at the University of Chicago.

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