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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – According to the United Nations, at least 50 million people in East Africa will face acute food insecurity this year.

According to Atsu Andre Agbogan, the Eastern Africa Regional Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), climate change and conflict are driving the crisis.

“Prolonged drought and persistent instability leaves people risking famine,” he told Crux.

“Food insecurity has been fluctuating in the region, driven by conflicts, economic crisis, low agricultural production, high food prices, and constrained access to humanitarian support,” Atsu said.

As of May 2022, East Africa counted 58.2 million people with insufficient food for consumption, according to official figures.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned that two out of every 10,000 inhabitants will die from hunger every day in the region. More than 250,000 people died across the region during the 2011-2012 famine, half of them children.

At least 700,000 Somalis have been forced to flee from their homes as a result of drought, with UNICEF estimating that half of the country’s population or about 7 million people are already experiencing severe food shortages, including 1.5 million children under the age of five. In addition, 4.5 million Somalis are facing severe water shortages.

In Uganda, floods have forced over 65,000 people from their homes so far this month.

Atsu noted that 80 percent of the people affected by climate-induced displacement are women and children.

“So broadly stated, approximately 560,000 women/children are displaced in search of water, food and pasture,” he told Crux.

Even as food shortages hit the region, the UN’s World Food Program in June suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan due to a funding crunch and rising needs in other areas.

“These are people that are experiencing emergency and crisis levels of food insecurity. More than two in three people are experiencing a serious humanitarian and protection crisis and need help to survive. Of these, it’s estimated that 8.3 million people, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, will endure acute severe hunger during the lean season,” Atsu said.

“It’s not only drought that forces displacement, but South Sudan had also its worst desert locust invasion that spread across East Africa. Destroying yields of smallholder farmers’ crops coupled with water scarcity displaced millions of people – substantially reducing smallholder farmers’ economic growth, leaving them insulated and isolated from climate resilience measures,” he added.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, an average locust swarm can destroy crops sufficient to feed 2,500 people for a year.

Antsu said these crises give people very little choice but to migrate, but this can lead to dangerous journeys, where many have lost their lives.

“The loss of a human life is always a tragedy. And more so when it is triggered by the suffering and the search of hope and a brighter future,” he said. “All men and women are equal in human dignity, and some of the situations migrants have to face on their way to a safe country are neither dignifying nor human.”

He expressed discomfort with the usual narrative of people fleeing in search of “greener pastures,” preferring to highlight the search for hope.

“Hope drives the world; hope drives most human actions, and it is something to embrace and celebrate. If such hope is to be found in Europe, in Africa, America or anywhere else in the world, this is something the world should be focusing on to make a better place for everyone to live in and provide that hope rather than focusing on ‘greener pastures’,” he told Crux.

He said JRS condemns “the outrageous conditions many migrants have to face when running from war and persecution. And we dream about a world in which no person sees himself or herself forced to leave their country for survival.”

“JRS’s vision is a world in which no one has to forcibly leave their home or community or country. And to achieve that, we must grow and evolve as a society leaving no-one behind, as a community and at a global level, from the poorest to the richest country,” he said.

He said JRS was already leading the charge in this direction, by laying emphasis “on serving the most vulnerable in the community whereby we ensure that a special focus is put on girls, or children and adults with special needs, among others.”

He called for an open-door policy, because “frontiers are manmade, but humanity is not.”

“And as equal sons and daughters of God, we shall all have access to the same opportunities and an equal human dignity. So we believe in a welcoming world in which frontiers are not a barrier for dignity, but a gate to new opportunities,” he said.