In the wake of the multiple droughts which have hit the Horn of Africa over the past year, countries in the sub-region will face a rise in hunger and further decline of local livelihoods in the coming months, while also dealing with a growing number of refugees, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warns.

The FAO says nearly 12 million people across Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia face harsh food conditions, and are in need of emergency assistance. Families in the region also experience rising debt, low cereal and seed stocks, and low milk and meat production.

The Cape Town-based African News Agency quotes an FAO report as saying that farmers need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their breeding livestock healthy and productive at a time that pastures are the driest in years.

Production outputs in the three countries are grim. We’re dealing with a cyclical phenomenon in the Horn of Africa, says Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, stressing that timely support to farming families can significantly boost their ability to withstand the impacts of these droughts and soften the blow to their livelihoods.

The FAO has already begun allocating funds to Kenya and Somalia to support emergency feed, repairs to water points, vaccinations for breeding and weak animals, and seeds and tools to plant in the spring season.

The FAO is also co-operating with local officials to help countries prepare for emergencies, especially in those areas where we know natural hazards are recurring, says Burgeon, who adds that working with the governments to further build up the ability to mitigate future shocks is a smart intervention which can significantly reduce the need for humanitarian and food aid further down the line.

Kenya currently has nearly 1.3 million people who are food insecure, and the number could increase in early 2017 because of an expected drought. Somalia has also seen two poor rainy seasons this year and about five million Somalis are food insecure through December 2016, including 1.1 million people in crisis and emergency conditions of food insecurity, a 20 per cent increase in just six months.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia is still recovering from the 2015 El NiAo-induced drought, with 5.6 million food insecure people, and millions more depending on livestock herds.