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

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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