As many as 28 million people across East Africa at risk of extreme hunger if rains fail again

March 21, 2022
Global food and commodity prices spiking in reaction to Ukraine crisis set to worsen hunger for 21 million people already today in severe food insecurity

As many as 28 million people across East Africa face severe hunger if the March rains fail. With the unfolding crisis in Ukraine taking their attention, there is a real danger that the international community will not respond adequately to the escalating hunger crisis in East Africa until it is too late, Oxfam warned today.

A massive ‘no regrets’ mobilization of international humanitarian aid is needed now to avert destitution and to help the 21 million people already facing severe levels of hunger in the midst of conflict, flooding, and a massive two-year drought – unprecedented in 40 years – in countries across East Africa.

“East Africa faces a profoundly alarming hunger crisis. Areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and beyond are experiencing a full-scale catastrophe. Women and girls are most vulnerable to hunger since they often eat last and least and face more economic insecurity,” said Brittany Lambert, Oxfam Canada’s Women’s Rights Policy Specialist.

“The repercussions of the Ukrainian conflict on the global food system will reverberate around the globe, but it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who will be hit hardest. Last year Canada endorsed the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact, but so far these promises haven’t translated into the urgent funding needed to avert catastrophe in the world’s hungriest countries.”

COVID-19-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 per cent of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. As disruptions begin to affect the global trade in grains, oil, transport and fertilizer, 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.

“Famine does not happen unexpectedly. It comes after months of ignored warnings and international indifference. Let’s not wait until it’s too late,” said Bucher.

  • 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 per cent 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 per cent 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.

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

Idris Akhdar from WASDA a 21-year Kenyan partner with Oxfam, 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.”

Oxfam together with local partners, is redoubling its support for those impacted by the East African hunger crisis, aiming to reach over 1.5 million people most in need with lifesaving water, cash, shelter and sanitation facilities. Oxfam will help people to build rebuild their lives from these climatic shocks.

“East Africa cannot wait. The hunger crisis, fuelled by changes in our climate and COVID-19, 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 organizations. The governments and warring parties in conflict zones need to ensure humanitarian agencies like Oxfam can safely reach the most vulnerable people,” said Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher.

“We call upon the governments especially from grain exporting countries to do all they can to find suitable alternatives to the imminent disruption in the supply chain from Ukraine towards low-income, food-import dependent countries. And – as we witness the tremors triggered by the failure in international efforts to tackle the climate crisis – we underscore the need to ramp up action on climate adaptation and mitigation,” said Bucher.

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 Notes to Editors:

  • Oxfam’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher will be holding a global press conference on March 22, 2022 from 3pm-5pm EAT (12 noon-2pm GMT) at Oxfam headquarters, Atrium building, Chaka Road, Nairobi, Kenya. Live zoom link available to all journalists HERE Gabriela will be available for interviews.
  • Oxfam has new exclusive stories people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, including b-rolls, interviews in VNR and photos available HERE.
  • Oxfam partners In Kenya: ASAL Humanitarian Network; in Northern Ethiopia: ORDA in Amhara, APDA in Afar Regions; in Somalia: Kaalo, WASDA, SADO, SSWC, ADESO; and in South Sudan: SALT, DARD, YWCA.
  • Figures on extreme coping mechanisms are from WFP food security analysis monitoring survey. Data is collected on a rolling basis. For more details on the methodology kindly check the Hunger Map.
  • “Climate change and La Niña are working together to produce prolonged and persistent dryness.” Source: The World Food Programme and the Multi Agency in East Africa
  • Displacement figures in Somalia from the UN Humanitarian Bulletin January 2022
  • Data on the UN Humanitarian appeal from Source: UNOCHA , accessed March 14, 2022. Data on Kenya’s appeal based on UN flash Appeal initially raised for October 2021-March 2022.
  • Figures on food price increase in 2010- 2011 are from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2011 and the World Bank Feb 201
  • South Sudan food insecurity projections are from South Sudan Food Security & Livelihood Cluster Analysis Report, February 2022.
Oxfam response in East Africa:
  • 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.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Paula Baker
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047

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