And as the country and larger region face water shortages once again, U.S. President Donald Trump’s refugee and travel restrictions are leaving its people with even fewer options for escape.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, suspends refugee admissions to the U.S. from all countries for four months and restricts travel from seven countries ― Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― for 90 days.
Just a few days later, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization announced that, after months of lower-than-average rainfall, more than 17 million people are in “crisis and emergency food insecurity levels” in several east African nations, including Somalia and Sudan.
Two million Somalis are currently seeking refuge outside their homeland, making it the world’s third-largest source country for refugees ― behind only Syria and Afghanistan. According to USA Today, nearly 15,000 Somali refugees who had planned to resettle in the U.S. are currently stranded in Kenya’s Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, after Trump’s immigration order went into effect.
More than 130 Somali refugees had already been approved to enter the U.S. and had been poised to leave the camp when Trump’s directive was announced. The administration said Tuesday that it would admit 872 pre-approved refugees into the U.S. this week, but it’s unclear whether these people are part of that group.
In Somalia, 5 million people, or about 40 percent of the population, are facing hunger because of both drought and fighting between the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and Somalia’s African Union-backed government. More than 300,000 children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished
In recent years, drought has become a frequent visitor to east Africa. In 2011, a devastating drought, said to be the worst in the region in 60 years, threatened the livelihoods of almost 10 million people. Almost 260,000 died of starvation in Somalia alone — half of them were children under the age of 5.
Last year, drought devastated the region again. Exacerbated by one of the strongest El Nino events ever recorded, the dry spell left millions facing hunger across southern and eastern Africa.
“We don’t have food, water, and clothes,” Quresha Abdi Ali, a displaced Somali woman, told Africa News this week. “Our farms are barren, our livestock are dead, and our men cannot find any work to do. I lost my son because I couldn’t find any food or water to give him … I also lost 12 members of my family. We are in so much despair.”
The FAO warned that an “immediate and sufficient” humanitarian response is needed to prevent the current drought crisis from “becoming a catastrophe.”
“This is, above all, a livelihoods and humanitarian emergency — and the time to act is now. We cannot wait for a disaster like the famine in 2011,” FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo, told a high-level panel during the African Union Summit, which kicked off in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday.
An FAO spokesperson, speaking from Kenya, told HuffPost on Thursday that this drought crisis could be as devastating for Somalia as the 2011 disaster. “Famine is a real possibility in 2017” for the country, which is forecasted to experience lower-than-average rainfall this year, the spokesperson said.
Climate change has been linked to the increase in severity and frequency of drought in the Horn of Africa, which in turn threatens food security for millions of people. Peter deMenocal, Columbia University’s dean of science who co-authored a study in 2015 on this topic, said this week that there is an “accelerating trend toward even greater aridity” in the region due to carbon emissions.
Suleimn Yussuf Muhumed, 24, is one of the Somali refugees in Dadaab who had been on the verge of coming to the U.S. He had fled Somalia with his father and younger sister after armed men killed three of his siblings. Drought later ruined a small plot of land the family owned.
Muhumed told USA Today that life in the refugee camp is “filled with difficulties,” and he had been looking forward to his new life in Ohio. He said he’d heard Ohio “is a very cool place, a very nice place for life, and the people are very welcoming.”
Sudan, another country affected by the drought and the ban, had just signed a deal with the Obama administration in January to lift a 20-year-old U.S. trade embargo.
“We feel sorry that the decision was taken at a time we started cooperating and the sanctions were lifted,” Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters during the African Union Summit earlier this week.
Also speaking at the summit, chair of the African Union Commission and South African politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had strong words for Trump.
“The very country to which many of our people were taken as slaves during the trans-Atlantic slave trade has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries,” Dlamini-Zuma said on Monday, addressing the union’s 54 member states.
“What do we do about this? Indeed, this is one of the greatest challenges to our unity and solidarity,” she continued.
Dominique Mosbergen is a reporter at The Huffington Post covering climate change, extreme weather and extinction. Send tips or feedback to dominique.mosbergen@Twitter.or follow her on