Nairobi — Some 20 million people are facing acute food insecurity in eastern and central Africa, with most of them being at "crisis" and "emergency" levels, according to aid agencies. This figure compares unfavorably with 15.8 million people in July 2013.
The affected countries include Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania.
"The overall nutrition situation in the region has deteriorated precipitously and, according to survey results, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) levels are higher than 20 percent, exceeding the World Health Organization's emergency threshold of 15 percent, especially in parts of South Sudan, CAR, Somalia and northern Kenya," said the East and Central Africa Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG), a multi-stakeholder regional forum chaired by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
FSNWG warned that the situation could deteriorate further in the absence of quick action.
"FSNWG strongly believes that in the absence of an increased and immediate multi-sectoral response, the food and nutrition status of affected populations is likely to deteriorate further."
It added that "the countries of major concern with regard to food and nutrition insecurity are the conflict-affected South Sudan, CAR, DRC and Somalia."
Four countries - South Sudan, DRC, CAR and Somalia - all grappling with conflict - account for over 10 million people facing food insecurity.
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Categorization (IPC) scale, at least 20 percent of people must have significant food shortages and there must be above normal acute levels of malnutrition for a situation to be declared an "acute crisis". For "emergency" levels, there must be high levels of acute malnutrition and at least 20 percent of people must have extreme food shortages.
In South Sudan where some one million people have been displaced by violence, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned in its latest situation report that while famine has not been declared, "humanitar¬ians are concerned about severe food in¬security and the poor nutrition situation."
Access to those in need of food aid has been hampered by insecurity. An OCHA report in August said aid agencies had stopped distribution activities, including food distribution, after six local aid workers were killed in Maban County in Upper Nile State.
In Somalia where a famine three years ago left an estimated 250,000 people dead, many of them women and children under five, the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU, a FAO body) warmed in early July that "the food security situation is expected to deteriorate in the months ahead due to reduced crop production resulting from poor seasonal Gu rains (April to June), a surge in prices of basic commodities and reduced livestock production."
Among displaced communities in Mogadishu, GAM levels of 18.9 percent have been reported, surpassing the emergency threshold of 15 percent.
The situation has been worsened by both insecurity, which has hampered access to those in need, and inadequate funding.
FAO has warned that the food security situation is expected to deteriorate in the months ahead due to reduced crop production resulting from poor seasonal rains, a surge in prices and reduced livestock production.
The government has already declared drought in seven out of 18 regions and warns that, if urgent measures are not taken there would be a repeat of the 2011 famine. The UN warned in July that Somalia risked sliding back into famine.
On 8 July, UN human rights expert Bahame Tom Nyanduga said: "Unfortunately, in spite of the early warning indicators, there appears to be inadequate response to a potential catastrophe, which could erode some of the gains of the Federal Government of Somalia to safeguard and guarantee the rights to life and the right to food for [a] considerable number of Somali citizens."
In CAR where there are an estimated 512,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), including some 87,000 in the capital Bangui; 1.7 million people (out of a population of 4.6 million) are estimated to be food insecure, according to FAO.
FAO has called for an urgent response to the needs of local farmers, adding that their "vulnerability continues to rise and livelihoods are increasingly at risk".
Renewed fighting from 30 to 31 July in Batangafo caused the displacement of some 20,000 people inside the town and thousands more on major roads in the region.
In the DRC where political violence and inter-communal strife have persisted for decades, at least 4.1 million people are facing "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity and are likely to remain in this position until December 2014.
According to a recently released Global Emergency overview (by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger), "the most acutely affected areas are Punia (Maniema, Babira and Bakwame sectors) in Maniema Province, and Manono, Mitwaba, and Pweto in Katanga. Other areas facing 'crisis' conditions are in South Kivu, the Punia border areas in Maniema Province, and Katanga."
It added: "Needs are highest in the conflict-affected regions of North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and Orientale, where there is large-scale, repeated displacement. IDPs, host populations, and those unable to flee are all vulnerable as insecurity poses multiple protection risks and prevents access to basic services, although needs vary according to geographic area and conflict dynamics."
"Conflict and displacement along the border with CAR, and armed groups in the Kivu region continue to be of concern and [a] cause of food insecurity," said FSNWG.
In Kenya, an estimated 1.3 million people - 300,000 of whom are either at "crisis" or "emergency" levels - require support to cushion them against food insecurity, according to the Kenya Food Security Steering Group.
"With below-average household incomes, price increases for maize will result in reduced purchasing power for poor, urban consumers as well as poor households in the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. In pastoral areas, the poor livestock body conditions make the livestock more susceptible to disease. The competition for limited rangeland resources between now and September increases the risk of conflict," FEWS NET said in July.
In Ethiopia, FEWS NET said most pastoral areas would remain stressed even with humanitarian assistance.
"Poor households in the highlands of Arsi Zone in central Oromia have moved into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) having lost Belg crops typically harvested in June/July and a large number of livestock. Their food security is unlikely to improve until the Meher harvest in October," it said.
At least 2.2 million people there require food aid, according to FSNWG.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), at least 682,000 people are either in "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity. In the northeast, food production levels were 40-60 percent below average as a result of poor Season B rainfall.
However, food security conditions are expected to improve with the availability of Season A green harvests in December.
Some 252,810 people, many of them in Karamoja, are either in "emergency" or "crisis" levels.
FEWS NET noted in July that "in Karamoja, the September/October harvest is expected to only be 20 to 30 percent of average. There will be minimal green consumption this year, and households will not see the usual post-harvest increase in food access. Despite adequate availability of staple food on the market at stable prices, households' constrained income means they have limited ability to purchase food. Eastern parts of the region are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through December."
Seasonal food security improvement is expected as harvests begin in October. Still, an estimated 5.3 million people in Sudan face Stressed (IPC Phase 2), Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity.
Conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and West Kordofan, have disrupted livelihoods and reduced household food access, especially for IDPs, while the persistent rise of staple food prices has reduced household capacity to meet minimum food requirements during the peak of the lean season when households are most market dependent.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]