Global food prices skyrocket due to Ukraine conflict, threatening millions already facing extreme hunger

Oxfam urges international community to respond to hunger crisis in East Africa before it’s too late


Tuesday 22 March 2022


Over 161 million people across 42 countries are currently suffering from acute hunger. Across East Africa alone, 21 million people are facing severe levels of hunger due to conflict, flooding, crop pests and a devastating two-year drought, unprecedented in 40 years. This number is set to rise to as many as 28 million if the March rains fail.


Today, Oxfam urged the international community to respond with a massive, “no regrets” mobilisation of humanitarian aid to prevent destitution across East Africa. With the unfolding crisis in Ukraine taking their attention, the aid agency warned that there is a real danger the international community will not respond adequately until it’s too late.


Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “Areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and beyond are experiencing an unfolding catastrophe. Even if the rains do arrive this month, full recovery after two years of drought will be near impossible unless there is urgent action by the international community today.


“While we respond to the escalating crisis in Ukraine, we must also respond to its wider repercussions on the global food system which will reverberate worldwide, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people hardest and fastest. Rising food prices are a hammer blow to millions of people who are already suffering multiple crises and make the huge shortfall in aid potentially lethal.


“Ireland must act unilaterally and at UN and EU levels to ensure that the negative impact on supply, trade and price of food due to the Ukrainian conflict will not affect those already experiencing or most vulnerable to food shortages throughout the world, including across East Africa.”


Covid-related hikes in global food and commodity prices were already undermining the options available to heavily indebted African governments to resolve the mass hunger facing their people. However, the crisis in Ukraine will have catastrophic new consequences as it already pushes up food and commodity prices beyond what East African governments can afford.


Countries in East Africa import up to 90% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. As disruptions begin to affect the global trade in grains, oil, transport and fertiliser, food prices are beginning to skyrocket. They hit an all-time high last week. In Somalia, the prices for staple grains were more than double those of the previous year.

In 2010-11, similar spikes in food prices pushed 44 million more people worldwide into extreme poverty, and indications are that the food-price inflation happening now will be even worse.


Nyadang Martha, from Akobo in South Sudan, told Oxfam: “All the 40 years of my life, I have never seen anything like what is happening here in Akobo. For the past four years, it is either flood, drought, famine, violence, or COVID-19. This is just too much. I am tired of living. If it continues like this, I doubt if my girls will become full adults.”


Despite alarming need, the humanitarian response is woefully underfunded. Only 3% of the total $6bn UN 2022 humanitarian appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan, has been funded to date. Kenya has only secured 11% of its UN flash appeal to date.


Idris Akhdar from Wajir County, North Eastern Kenya, said: “Our team have met desperate people. People who are hungry, who are thirsty, and who are about to lose hope. In the last few days, I have seen across the region - Somali region in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya - the same hunger and destitution all over. We appeal to the international community to help.” (Idris is part of WASDA, a Kenyan organisation partnering with Oxfam for over 20 years.)


Oxfam is working with local partners to redouble its support for those impacted by the East African hunger crisis, aiming to reach over 1.5 million people most in need, including many displaced, with life-saving water, cash, shelter and sanitation facilities.


Clarken continued: “The people of East Africa cannot wait. The hunger crisis is worsening by the day. Oxfam is calling on all donors to urgently fill the UN humanitarian appeal funding gap and to get funds as quickly as possible to local humanitarian organisations. Ireland and other EU member states should increase their allocations to the underfunded US$327million World Food Programme appeal, which aims to support around 4.5 million people affected by drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with life-saving aid. We must act decisively in our trade and agriculture policies to stabilise food prices and protect the world’s most vulnerable populations from further food price shocks. And we especially call upon the governments from grain exporting countries to do all they can to find suitable alternatives to the imminent disruption in the supply chain from Ukraine.


“This is not a time for apathy, distraction or delay – it is a time to act and we must act now.”




CONTACT: Alice Dawson Lyons, Oxfam Ireland | | +353 (0) 83 198 1869


Notes to the editors:   


  • Over 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been displaced in search of water and pasture, just in the first quarter of 2022. Millions of others had to flee their farmlands and homes by conflicts especially around Ethiopia – where 9.4m people now need urgent humanitarian aid.
  • The region has suffered from the worst plague of locusts in 70 years and flash flooding that have affected nearly a million people in South Sudan.
  • Kenya has suffered a 70 percent drop in crop production and has declared a national disaster with 3.1m people in acute hunger, now in need of aid. Nearly half of all households in Kenya are having to borrow food or buy it on credit.
  • Ethiopia is facing its highest level of food insecurity since 2016, in Somali region alone 3.5m people experience critical water and food shortage. Almost a million livestock animals have died, leaving pastoralists who entirely depend on herding for survival with nothing. Women tell us heart-breaking stories about having to skip meals so that they can feed their children.
  • More than 671,000 people have recently migrated away from their homes in Somalia because nearly 90% of the country is in severe drought. This will likely leave almost half of Somali children under five acutely malnourished.
  • In South Sudan, an estimated 8.3 million people will face severe food insecurity this lean season (May-July) as climatic and economic shocks intensify.


  •  In South Sudan: Oxfam has provided support to over 400,000 people and aims to reach and additional 240,000 people with safe water, sanitation and hygiene services and promotion, cash grants for families to buy food and other essentials, and livelihood support like seeds, tools, fishing kits.
  • In Somalia, Oxfam aims to reach 420,000 people this year with lifesaving water, sanitation and health support, including drilling boreholes in water insecure areas, distributing hygiene kits, providing materials to help protect communities from water borne diseases, and distributing cash, seeds tools, and training farmers in small scale greenhouse farming. Oxfam will also support livestock treatment and vaccination campaigns together with the Ministry of Livestock, train community protection volunteers on gender-based violence issues, and distribute solar lamps to protect women and girls at night. To date we have reached over 260,000 people.
  • In Kenya, Oxfam is currently supporting 40,000 people and planning to expand the support to approximately 240,000 people with cash transfers for food and other essential items and water, sanitation and hygiene activities such as repairing water points and boreholes to provide access to clean, safe water and hygiene promotion campaigns.
  • In Ethiopia, Oxfam has supported 170,000 people in Northern Ethiopia with lifesaving clean water, food, and cash assistance, particularly in conflict affected areas in South Tigray, Central Tigray, Amhara and Afar. Oxfam aims to reach an additional 750,000 women, men and children in Northern Ethiopia with emergency food packages, livelihoods assistance, clean water, sanitation and hygiene kits and protection until March 2023. Together with our partners, we are also scaling up response in the Somali Region to respond to the effects of the drought.
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Time on your hands? Why not volunteer with your local Oxfam shop!

There are two things that keep our network of shops going strong – your amazing donations and your precious time.

And right now, we would love if you could donate some of your time and volunteer at your local Oxfam shop. Volunteers play a vital role in Oxfam’s work around the world, while also providing a solution to throwaway fashion by saving items from ending up in landfills here at home.

By giving us a little bit of their time and creativity, each one of our incredible volunteers makes a huge difference in support of some of the most at-risk communities in the world, while helping our planet a little along the way.

A normal Shift is about four hours, but I always wish it could be longer, because it is amazing to see so many people of all ages take an interest in books and helping charity - Chloe Chu, a volunteer at Oxfam Books in Dublin

Trevor Anderson, Director of Trading with Oxfam Ireland, said: “I would encourage anyone interested in lending some time to pop into their local Oxfam shop and let the manager know - people can give as little or as much time as they like. Oxfam shops are a hive of activity with lots of opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, and of course, have plenty of fun along the way.

“Our volunteers are the backbone of our network of shops and by giving a little of their time and creativity, each person makes a huge difference in support of some of the most at-risk communities in the world.

“It is because of the commitment and enthusiasm of our amazing volunteers that Oxfam can change lives and work toward building a fairer and more sustainable world for everyone.”

So, why not lend some time to your local Oxfam shop, and see what you can do for people and planet!

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Two years of COVID-19 What Oxfam has been doing

Shahida Akter Lucky, a 25-year-old unemployed domestic worker living in Dhaka, stands in line with her eight-month-old son at a food distribution carried out by Oxfam partner Nari Maitree. Photo: Fabeha Monir / Oxfam

Oxfam’s global response to the coronavirus pandemic has reached across the world to help people survive, while also advocating for a People’s Vaccine.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2020, Ann Gakenia Muthungu immediately understood the life-and-death implications. The 69-year-old single mother and grandmother knew that on top of the risk of sickness and death from coronavirus, complying with government mandates to stay home meant people like her wouldn’t be able to earn income for food.

“How can we stay at home without food? We cannot live in the house,” she predicted. “You will die in the house.”

Oxfam worked with partners in Kenya and 68 other countries to provide cash for families locked down without income or food to meet their basic needs, information about the pandemic they can use to stay safe, as well as soap and protective equipment.

In 2020, Oxfam assisted more than 14 million people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to help people around the world make a decent living during the pandemic, survive disasters and conflict and climate change shocks, while also advocating for more and better access to safe, affordable COVID-19 vaccines.

Hunger and the coronavirus

The implications of COVID-19 on access to food for impoverished communities was immediately evident in 2020. Farmers, traders, retailers, and consumers all faced challenges, particularly in areas where the poorest people lack any savings or food reserves.

People living in areas affected by conflict-such as Yemen, parts of West Africa, South Sudan, and Ethiopia--continue to be the most vulnerable, as some areas are on the edge of famine. In parts of the Horn of Africa, a combination of drought, flood, and even locusts have killed off livestock and crops.

By mid-2021, Oxfam estimated that 155 million people in 55 countries had been pushed into extreme levels of food insecurity, and that more than half a million were living in famine-like conditions – a six-fold increase in just a year.


Oxfam distributed 500 hygiene kits (containing soap and other items to help people keep clean), along with information about how to minimise risk to COVID-19, to families in Salahaddin, Iraq, in 2020. Photo: Oxfam

Oxfam and our partners distributed cash to families in areas with functioning markets so they could buy food, soap, and meet other basic needs during the pandemic. In other areas, we helped farmers with seeds, fertilizer, and training on growing drought-resistant food crops in places like Central America’s Dry Corridor.

Women bear the brunt of the pandemic

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was clear it would hit men and women differently. Since then, statistics show that women suffered higher rates of job loss (5 percent for women, 3.9 percent for men). Oxfam’s research indicates this cost women globally $800 billion in lost income from 2020 to mid-2021.

When schools closed, and family members got sick, women and girls took up the additional unpaid care work at home. This is yet another factor in the increasing pandemic-driven economic inequality in the world.

And as many women found themselves stuck at home with abusive people, it increased the threat of gender-based violence, further discriminating against women.

In addition to distributing cash to families, Oxfam and our partners and allies also advocated for more and better support for families, such as a research and advocacy campaign in the Philippines that encouraged 28 towns and cities to provide day care services and improve roads connecting to markets.

Oxfam’s WE CARE campaign for women’s economic empowerment carried out research, waged campaigns, and held workshops to shine a light on the burden of women’s unpaid care work during the pandemic in Tajikistan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, just to name a few countries.

Oxfam staff Nikhil Wagh and Parmeshwar Patil deliveran oxygen concentrator to a hospital in Maharashtra state. Photo: Oxfam India

Public health crisis in India

When the coronavirus first hit India in 2020, Oxfam India worked with partners and government ministries on a massive effort to help the poorest people survive. Many were migrant workers at job sites far from home suddenly without work, food, or money. Oxfam provided cash, meals, protective masks, hand sanitizer, and hand washing facilities. At the request of local government officials, Oxfam also provided masks and hand sanitizer to hospital workers and police officers.

Since then, Oxfam has provided food to more than half a million people and distributed $409,000 in cash to 10,000 of the most vulnerable, including transgender people, sex workers, miners, survivors of domestic violence and cancer, weavers, fisherfolk, construction workers, and people affected by floods and cyclones.

When the Delta variant broke out in India in April and May 2021, Oxfam India built seven oxygen generating plants and distributed more than 13,000 pieces of lifesaving medical equipment such as oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, ventilators; more than 116,000 safety and personal protection kits; 9,929 pieces of diagnostic equipment such as thermometers and oximeters; and 20,000 testing kits in 16 states. We reached 479 hospitals and other health facilities.

Oxfam provided protective equipment, digital thermometers, and oxygen meters to 64,900 community health workers in nine states. “At the beginning [of the pandemic], we didn’t have any gloves or anything,” said one health worker in Uttar Pradesh said after a training workshop to learn how to use the new digital thermometers, and where she received masks and gloves

An affordable, accessible People’s Vaccine

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, about six percent of people in poor countries have been vaccinated, while wealthier countries are hoarding vaccines, and parceling out just a few in donations. The result has been millions of unnecessary deaths, a steady parade of virus mutations, and more than two years of increasing inequality and suffering while the major pharmaceutical firms that created vaccines using public funds and taxpayer funded research rake in billions in profits. Four times as many people have died in low-income countries than in rich ones.

Oxfam immediately helped create the global People’s Vaccine Alliance to campaign and advocate for a patent-free, mass-produced, and fairly distributed vaccine available free of charge to everyone, rich and poor alike. This would allow more manufacturing of vaccines in more countries, leading to greater access and faster distribution.

Oxfam has called on companies to explore sharing their technology to boost manufacturing in low-income countries to make more vaccine available to more people, and save more lives.

The race against COVID-19

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Climate, conflict, and COVID-19 crisis in Horn of Africa

A man brings his herd of camels to a well near the Jarar river in southern Ethiopia. Years of dry weather in Ethiopia and Somalia, combined with conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, are creating a humanitarian crisis. Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermon

A combination of factors is spreading suffering across the region. Oxfam is working with partners to alleviate hunger and push for solutions.

Countries in the Horn of Africa are enduring severe hunger, with near-famine conditions in some areas, due to conflict, climate-induced weather shocks (flooding in some countries, drought in others) and COVID-19.

Oxfam is working with local humanitarian groups in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia to deliver emergency assistance and address the underlying causes of hunger.


Fighting between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government began in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in late 2020. More than nine million people in Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar regions need humanitarian assistance.

One of them is Dagmawit (name changed for security reasons), a 35-year-old mother of three children who left her home in Amhara during fighting in September. ‘‘We fled from our town to save our lives and the lives of our children,” she says.

I don’t know if my husband escaped, which direction he may have gone, or where he is now. I followed other people who were fleeing the gun battle …. Thank God we arrived here safe.’

She found temporary safety in a center for displaced people in Ednat, where Oxfam is working with the Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA) to provide water and sanitation supplies, and cash to help displaced people purchase essentials in the local market.

Oxfam and ORDA’s joint response has reached more than 6,000 people with cash, water and safe sanitation, and hygiene kits. Together, we have constructed latrines, bathing facilities, and clean water distribution points. Oxfam is also working with organizations in the Tigray and Afar regions, providing water and sanitation, as well as cash, where possible. In the next year, Oxfam and partners plan to assist 750,000 people with emergency food packages, livelihoods assistance, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits.

More than half of the people affected by the fighting in northern Ethiopia are women, and 48 percent are children. To date, Oxfam has reached more than 105,000 people across the three regions affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Oxfam’s program in Ethiopia is also engaged in a long-term response to ongoing drought in the southern Somali region, where we are planning to help 180,000 people with clean water and sanitation and livelihood support for farmers and herders affected by conflict and drought.

South Sudan

South Sudan has experienced widespread seasonal flooding for five consecutive years. Since May 2021, an estimated 835,000 people have been affected by flooding along the White Nile, when early seasonal rain caused the rivers to flood areas across the north of the country. Entire communities have fled to higher ground, and about 366,000 people are currently displaced.

Nyakaal Kel Madoot, 56, says she and her nine children escaped the flood waters inundating their home in Ganyiel, and now says, “The biggest issue I am facing with my children is hunger.” She says the area in Lakes State where she has found higher ground with other displaced people lacks clean water and proper sanitation.

The recent flooding also hit areas recovering from conflict, and the threat of COVID-19 is particularly severe in areas where people are already malnourished.

Oxfam has been working in South Sudan for 30 years and is collaborating with local organizations to help 130,000 people with clean water, safe sanitation facilities, essential hygiene items, and hygiene education carried out by community members. Oxfam is helping to distribute seeds, tools, fishing equipment, and providing cash to 3,300 households to help them buy food and other essentials.

We are also helping to rebuild schools, provide alternative education to children displaced by conflict in South Sudan, and advocate for women and young people to be involved in peace talks and in setting the course for a peaceful South Sudan.

What's happening in South Sudan report from Oxfam's Michael Pepple

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Somalia is in the midst of a protracted period of drought, made worse in the last year by an upsurge in desert locusts that have eaten crops and pasture. Conflict and the pandemic have also contributed to a severe deterioration of living conditions. The UN and other humanitarian groups estimate 7.7 million people (roughly half of Somalia’s population) will need humanitarian assistance in 2022.

Lack of water and pasture are affecting the health of both people and livestock. “I had 128 cows before the drought,” says Hassan Sagar, 72, sitting in a makeshift shelter in an area hosting displaced people in Somalia’s southern Jubaland state. He fled his home village of Kaima, 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, in search of water and food along with other families that had lost all their livestock—which for many is their sole means of livelihood. “People here share the same predicament,” he says. “No one came here with even a single goat.”

Drought in southern Somalia’s Jubaland region is hitting livestock herders like Hasan Sagar particularly hard: “I had 128 cows before the drought. But only one cow was spared.” Osman Hussein / Oxfam

Oxfam is working with the Wajir South Development Association (WASDA) in Jubaland to provide water and sanitation to help displaced people avoid water-borne diseases like cholera, as well as livelihood assistance and nutrition support. Our goal is to reach 10,000 people with WASDA in Jubaland and 183,000 people in total across Somalia. Oxfam’s plans include well drilling to provide clean water and helping 24,600 people by distributing cash. We also plan to provide seeds and tools and training for 1,000 farmers in small-scale greenhouse farming. We will also support livestock vaccination campaigns, and train local volunteers how to prevent gender-based violence.