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Ten years since we said “never again”, East Africa facing catastrophic hunger

Oxfam calls for radical action as number of people facing extreme hunger across East Africa more than doubles since last year

The number of people experiencing extreme hunger across East Africa in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has more than doubled since last year – from over 10 million to more than 23 million today. In a report published today (18.05.22), Oxfam and Save the Children highlighted the world’s repeated failure to stave off preventable disasters and called on world leaders to take urgent action to save lives.

Dangerous Delays 2: The Cost of Inaction details how more than a decade since the delayed response to the 2011 famine that killed more than 260,000 people in Somalia – half of them children under five - the world is once again failing to avert catastrophic hunger in East Africa. Today, nearly half a million people across parts of Somalia and Ethiopia are facing famine-like conditions. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are suffering extreme hunger. United Nations predictions suggest that 350,000 Somali children may die by the summer if governments and donors do not tackle this hunger crisis immediately.

Jane Meriwas, Director of Samburu Women Trust in Kenya, said: “The situation is devastating. Both human beings and livestock are at risk of dying, already children, pregnant mothers and elderly in some parts of Marsabit and Samburu Counties in Kenya are being reported as dying. If urgent intervention is not provided now, we are likely to witness even more death.”

Oxfam is urging Ireland to continue to show leadership in calling for an immediate and radical mobilisation of international aid to prevent further destitution as well as to continue to use our membership on the UN Security Council to highlight the links between conflict and hunger and the need to address its catastrophic impacts. In addition to conflict, the report identifies a number of causes to the hunger crisis including Covid-19, the climate crisis and inflationary and market pressures accelerated by the conflict in Ukraine.

Supported by the Jameel Observatory, Dangerous Delay 2 examines the changes in the humanitarian aid system since 2011. It finds that despite an improved response to the 2017 East Africa drought when widespread famine was averted, the national and global responses have largely remained too slow and too limited to prevent a repeat today.

Leadership at international level is vital as entrenched bureaucracies and self-serving political choices continue to curtail a unified global response, despite improved warning systems and efforts by local NGOs. Urgent appeals are woefully underfunded, as other crises, including the war in Ukraine, are worsening the region’s escalating hunger crisis. 

Commenting on the crisis, Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland, said: “Let us be clear, starvation is a political failure. The world does not lack food or money, it lacks political courage and will. More than a decade ago when famine devastated lives and livelihoods across Somalia, we said never again. And yet, despite repeated warnings for two years, governments and the international community are acting too late and with too little to prevent catastrophic hunger across East Africa.

“It may be tempting to view the reasons for this crisis – a deadly combination of extreme weather, conflict and the economic fallout of COVID-19 -  as one-off events, but all of these events demonstrate the deep fragility of the food and economic systems that millions of people rely on to survive.  As the climate crisis unfolds, shocks from extreme weather and related factors – including the interplay between climate and conflict – will increase further. Ireland has already played a vital role at the UN Security Council in highlighting the interplay between conflict, climate and hunger and this is now more important than ever. Conflict is violently spurring the hunger crisis, continuing to limit the ability of the most vulnerable to access their farms, their pastures and to travel safely to markets or access life-saving humanitarian assistance.

“Meanwhile, climate change has made the La Niña-induced drought in the Horn of Africa more severe and prolonged, now the worst in 40 years. The drought has eroded economic reserves, herd size, and human health and is a major factor behind the alarming numbers of people without enough to eat each day. This is horribly unfair when the region is one of the least responsible for the climate crisis, emitting collectively 0.1% of global carbon emissions.”

Just two percent ($93.1 million) of the current $4.4bn UN appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has formally been funded to date. In 2017, those same countries had received $1.9 billion in emergency funding. Although donors promised $1.4 bn of aid last month, only $378 million of that was new money.

Oxfam and Save the Children are calling for urgent action to tackle this funding gap alongside a number of key asks, including:

  • To help save lives now, Western leaders and the G7 must immediately inject money to meet the $4.4 billion UN appeal for Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, and ensure the funding is flexible enough to be used where it is most needed.
  • Donors must guarantee that at least 25 per cent of funds go to local responders at the heart of response.
  • National governments must prioritise lives over politics, by acknowledging and acting on early warnings. They should be quicker to declare national emergencies, shift national resources to those most in need, and invest in response to climate related shocks.
  • Rich polluting nations must pay East Africa for its climate loss and damage. They must also cancel 2021-2022 debts for those countries, in order to free up resources to support people to mitigate and adapt to climate shocks.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • Download the latest “Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction.” report published 18 May 2022. 
  • A Dangerous Delay: The cost of late response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa report published in 2012 can be found here.
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Oxfam Ireland urge Irish government to tackle big pharma and end vaccine inequity

Just 13% of people in low-income countries have received two vaccine doses, compared to 75% of people in high-income countries, this is translating into a huge death toll… It’s time Ireland supported the TRIPS waiver, helped save millions of lives and put an end to this pandemic. 

 

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland CEO | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment May 11 2022

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This was Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken’s rallying call to the members of the Oireachtas committee on enterprise, trade and employment on Wednesday the 11th of May. He was speaking as part of People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland delegation, on the issue of vaccine inequity, and why the committee should recommend that the Irish Government support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics (known as the TRIPS waiver).

Jim Clarken made this argument in the context of the huge profits that the pharmaceutical industry have made from COVID-19 vaccines:

The reality of it is that Pharma has never seen profits like they’ve seen in the last few years, many new billionaires have been created in the pharma industry

Jim Clarken appeared alongside Professor Aisling McMahon of Maynooth University and Access to Medicines Ireland, Dimitri Eynikel of Médecins Sans Frontières and Dr. Christine Kelly, a consultant in infectious diseases who represented Doctors for Vaccine Equity.

Prof. McMahon outlined how the main effect of a waiver would be to allow low-income countries to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights so entities within those countries could produce generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines, medicines or diagnostics without States facing the threat of sanctions.

Prof. Aisling McMahon, Maynooth University | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, May 11

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Dr. Kelly provided startling statistics on vaccine inequity and the effect on frontline healthcare workers: ‘there are still many countries with vaccination rates less than 10% and we know that WHO guidance is that you need to vaccinate 10% of your population to cover the most vulnerable people. For me, this hits particularly hard because as a healthcare worker I know how difficult it is to treat people when you haven’t been vaccinated.’

Dr. Christine Kelly, St. Vincent’s University Hospital | Committee on Enterprise, Trade & Employment

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And Dimitri Eynikel, outlined the devastating impact a vaccine resistant variant will have if a TRIPS waiver isn’t implemented: ‘Are we prepared for a potential next wave, are we prepared for new inequities, when new more portent vaccines, adapted to new variants will arrive. We’re not there, we’re going to have the same inequity all over again if we don’t address the structural issues.’ We can’t expect developing countries to fight today's virus with yesterday's tools.

Dimitri Eynikel, MSF Access | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment

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The need for change was made most clear when Jim Clarken quoted Wilfred Gurupira, an academic in Zimbabwe: ‘it’s one thing losing those you love to a pandemic where there’s nothing that can be done. But it’s quite another, losing people when you know there was something that could be done to help them, but you can’t access it.’

You can watch the full hearing here.

To keep the momentum going in the run up to the all-important WTO meeting in June, the People’s Vaccine Alliance is organising an online conference about COVID-19 vaccine inequity on the 2nd of June (10am-12pm). Speakers will include Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, leader of The Civil Engagement Group in Seanad Éireann, & Dr. Luke McDonagh Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics researching Intellectual Property & Public Law, with details of further speakers to follow.

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Ukraine Appeal | Help Today

Nearly 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes from the war, 5 million into neighbouring countries.


Oxfam have a busy partner-led humanitarian response running in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and Romania, aiming to reach up to 800,000 people, or more if possible.
In Poland, we have already reached more than 225,000 people.


We are concentrating on protection, water and sanitation, and food and economic security. We are providing cash and basic sanitation facilities for families in need of urgent assistance.

Thank you for your continued support.
 

4 links between the war in ukraine and the horn of africa hunger crisis

A woman with two children and carrying bags walk on a road to leave Ukraine after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj. Photo: Peter Lazar/AFP via Getty Images

The world is facing a powerful convergence of crises. Conflict, COVID-19 and climate change are all contributing to record emergency aid needs.

The devastating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has reminded us all of the need for global solidarity. But as the world watches Ukraine, we must also remember other crises around the globe. This is important since the economic impacts of the Ukraine crisis – including unprecedented food and energy price inflation – will be felt by the most vulnerable in our deeply unequal world.

One of the situations Oxfam is most concerned about is the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa – spanning Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Here are some similarities, and connections, between this crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Sowda Omar Abdile makes black tea in her home in Wajir County, located in Kenya’s northeast. Photo: Khadija Farah/Oxfam

The Ukraine crisis will worsen hunger in the Horn of Africa

In recent years, conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis have deepened catastrophic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Over 14 million people in the region – about half of them children – were already experiencing extreme hunger. Now, the Ukraine crisis threatens to make things even worse. The war in Ukraine is disrupting supply chains and causing food prices to skyrocket. This will push more people to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa, which imports 90% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The number of people on the edge of starvation will rise to 20 million by the middle of 2022 if rains continue to fail and prices continue to rise.

In both crises, women and girls are suffering most

Humanitarian crises are hard for everyone, but particularly for women and girls. This is the case in both the Ukraine and Horn of Africa crises.

In the Horn of Africa – especially in conflict-affected areas – women and girls are facing extraordinary dangers to secure food for their families, including gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse. Food insecurity also has tragic consequences for young girls. Desperate families sometimes resort to harmful coping mechanisms like pulling their daughters out of school or marrying them off in exchange for a dowry to secure some income. Since women are often responsible for caring for, and nourishing, their families, they tend to eat last and least. This makes them more likely to suffer from malnutrition, with consequences for their own health and the health of the babies they are carrying or breastfeeding.

In the Ukraine crisis, women and children make up 90 per cent of those fleeing the country. The gender and age profile of these refugees – who have lost everything and are often forced to put their trust in strangers – significantly increases the risk of gender-based violence, trafficking and abuse.

Both crises are equally urgent

The escalating violence and massive displacement in Ukraine are shocking and have rightly captured the world’s attention. The geopolitical significance of the Ukraine crisis, together with 24/7 media coverage, has led to near record levels of funding for the humanitarian response. This fast and generous support stands in stark contrast to the attention given to other crises – including the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. Despite increasing needs, the humanitarian response for the region is woefully underfunded.

While the world watches Ukraine, we must remember the millions of people in neglected crises who are also suffering and in need of urgent support. Meeting humanitarian needs in Ukraine is vital, but donors must not displace funds that are badly needed to respond to challenges elsewhere. They must dig deeper and get creative. We shouldn’t need to choose between helping a refugee from Ukraine or a Somali farmer who lost her harvest. All lives are equally valuable. Both these humanitarian crises are worthy of urgent support.

Oxfam and local partners provide packages that include hygiene products and non-perishable food items to internally displaced people at the Ebnat aid distribution centre in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Photo: Serawit Atnafu/Oxfam

Oxfam is responding to both crises

When disaster strikes – whether it’s war or a hunger crisis – Oxfam responds with high quality lifesaving assistance, emergency supplies and essential protection for the most vulnerable.

In Europe, Oxfam is working to set up safe travel routes for Ukrainian refugees. We are supporting partner organizations who are providing vulnerable families with essential items like food, water, warm clothing, hygiene equipment and legal support.

In the Horn of Africa, in response to the worsening food crisis in the region, Oxfam is providing cash and vouchers. Communities will be able to use these to purchase essential food items and to meet basic nutritional needs. We also provide agricultural inputs, including seeds and tools, with training on more climate-resistant production to better prepare farmers for the future.

Since the hunger crisis in much of the region is caused by a prolonged drought, we are trucking water to remote communities and drilling wells to get clean water flowing. Many families rely on livestock for food, so we are supporting livestock treatment and vaccination campaigns. We are also helping people who have been displaced by conflict and drought by training protection volunteers on gender-based violence issues, and distributing solar lamps to protect women and girls at night.

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