One person dying from hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged East Africa as world fails warnings

One person is likely dying of hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, according to estimates by Oxfam and Save the Children in a report published today highlighting the world’s repeated failure to stave off preventable disasters.

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. Urgent appeals are woefully underfunded, as other crises, including the war in Ukraine, are worsening the region’s escalating hunger crisis.

The number of people experiencing extreme hunger in the three countries has more than doubled since last year – from over 10 million to more than 23 million today. This is against a backdrop of crippling debt that more than tripled in under a decade – from $20.7 billion in 2012 to $65.3 billion by 2020 – sucking resources from public services and social protection in these countries.

The report, Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction, 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.

“Despite all the warning signs, rich countries like Canada have given too little too late – leaving millions of people facing catastrophic hunger. Hunger, in a world of plenty, is an avoidable tragedy and a political failure,” said Brittany Lambert, Oxfam Canada’s Women’s Rights Policy Specialist.

“We are particularly worried about women and girls. Food insecurity harms them disproportionately. It affects maternal and child health, increases gender-based violence and child marriage, and adds to their unpaid care load. Widespread hunger threatens the achievements of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.”

“We’re seeing horrific numbers of severe malnutrition with close to 5.7 million children facing acute malnutrition through the end of this year. And with the UN warning that more than 350,000 could die if we do not act, the clock is ticking and every minute that passes is a minute too close to starvation and possible death of a child. How can we live with that if we let it happen again?” said Danny Glenwright, Save the Children Canada’s President and CEO.

“When children don’t have enough nutritious food to eat they go to bed hungry, they feel weak and have concentration problems, their mental wellbeing is affected, they are forced to walk long distances to get water during droughts and many drop out of school. This is not just a humanitarian crisis; this is the biggest challenge of our time—not responding accordingly will be a failure of humanity.”

Self-serving political choices continue to curtail a unified global response, despite improved warning systems and efforts by local NGOs, the report finds. G7 and other rich nations have turned inwards in response to various global crises, such as COVID-19 and more recently the Ukraine conflict, including by backtracking on their promised aid to poor countries and driving them to edge of bankruptcy with debt.

East African governments bear their own responsibility, having delayed their responses and often refused to acknowledge the scale of the crisis on their doorsteps. They have not adequately invested in agriculture or social protection systems to help people better cope with the drivers of hunger, including climatic and economic shocks.

The report sheds light on the continued failure of donors and aid agencies to prioritize local organizations at the forefront of the crisis response, which has slowed down the response further, even when they were ready to act.

Climate-induced drought, compounded by conflicts forcing people out of their homes, and COVID-19 economic turmoil have decimated people’s last ability to cope. The Ukraine conflict has also driven already soaring food prices to their highest level ever recorded, making food unattainable for millions.

Climate change has made this 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 daily. Yet, the region is one of the least responsible for the climate crisis, emitting collectively 0.1 per cent of global carbon emissions.

Just two per cent ($93.1 million) of the UN’s current $4.4-billionappeal 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 billion of aid last month, it is shameful that only $378 million of that was new money.

“People are starving not because the world lacks food or money, but for a dismal lack of political courage. Rich nations successfully, and rightly, raised over $16 billion in one month to address the terrible crisis in Ukraine. They pumped over $16 trillion dollars into their economies in response to COVID-19 to support those in need. Countries can mobilize resources to prevent human suffering – but only if they choose to,” said Lambert.

“Canada can show political and financial leadership by putting famine at the center the agenda at the upcoming G7 Summit. Donors must work together to plug funding gaps and find ways to respond to hunger crises early, before they spiral out of control”, she added.

“Globally, up to 323 million people in 81 countries could be acutely food insecure or at high risk this year as a perfect storm of climate, conflict and Covid has resulted in crop failures, food shortages, skyrocketing prices on basic staples, along with inequality and economic system collapse,” added Glenwright. “Canada’s leadership at the G7 Summit is critical.”

Oxfam and Save the Children are calling for urgent action to tackle the catastrophic hunger crisis in East Africa:

  • To help save lives now, G7 and Western leaders 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, including women’s organizations working on the frontlines.
  • Governments of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia must scale up social protection to help people cope with multiple shocks. They should invest at least 10 per cent of their budgets in agriculture, with a particular focus on smallholder and female farmers, as they had agreed in the African Union Malabo Declaration of 2014.
  • National governments must prioritize 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.

Acting early on hunger not only saves lives, but prevents economic loss. USAID estimates that every dollar invested in early response and resilience in Somalia saves three dollars by preventing income and livestock losses.

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Notes to the editor:

  • Download the latest Dangerous Delay: The Cost of Inaction.
  • All currency is in USD.
  • “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.
  • To calculate the daily deaths, we used the crude death rate, which is (0.5-0.99) per 10,000 people in IPC3 of food insecurity as specified in The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Global Partners (2021), as per Technical Manual Version 3.1: Evidence and Standards for Better Food Security and Nutrition Decisions. Then, we subtracted the normal daily death rate of 0.22 per 10,000 people per day; this figure is based on data from the UN and from national, EU, and Pacific Community statistical offices.
  • Across the three countries, the crude death rate is at least 627-1,802 per day, 0.44-1.25 per minute, i.e., between one every 2.5 minutes and one every 48 seconds. These figures are conservative, since they are based on the crude death rate for IPC 3, and do not take into account the higher crude death rates for IPC 4 and 5.
  • According to IPC (see IPC Population Tracking Tool, ) and the FAO-ICPAC Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, 22.4 – 23.4m people across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia will face high levels of acute hunger (IPC3 and above), including almost half a million in famine-like conditions. This includes: 7.4 million people across Ethiopia (as per the projection for July-September 2021) – including over 400,000 living in famine-like conditions (IPC 5); 5.5-6.5 million people in South East Ethiopia (April 2022 estimate), 3.5 million people from Kenya (March-June 2022 projection); and 6 million people are from Somalia, including 81,100 at IPC5 (April-June 2022 projection).
  • Children malnutrition figures from April 2022 Horn of Africa Drought update.
  • In May 2021, 10.2 million people were at IPC3 or above. Source: IPC info.
  • According to FAO, global food prices reached an all-time high in March 2022, on average, the cost of a local food basket has increased by 23 per cent across the entire Eastern Africa region in one year (Feb 2021/2022). But Ethiopia and Somalia have seen 66 and 36 per cent rise in their food basket cost between Feb2021/2022. Source: FAO’s “implications of the Conflict in Ukraine on Food Access and Availability in the East Africa Region” update, p.2.
  • In March-June 2021, the total number of people in IPC3+ across Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia was 10,183,133, according to IPC info.
  • Comparative data between the 2011 famine and 2022 shows that 9 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia experienced acute hunger (IPC 3+), today that figure is between 22.4 and 23.4 million people, according to UNOCHA and IPC.
  • The Ukraine crisis received $6.7 billion (in non-military aid) from the United States, and the EU Stand for Ukraine initiative raised over 10 billion euros to date.
  • In the COVID-19 emergency, governments increased budgets promptly and decisively. Since 2020, countries have announced $16 trillion in fiscal actions. Source: IMF 2021
  • The world’s farmers produce more than enough food to feed everyone (see the UN SDG news ).
  • Global carbon emissions are from Our World in Data.
  • Data on UN humanitarian appeals and donor funding are from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Financial Tracking Service.


For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

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

Tiffany Baggetta
Head, Communications, Media & PR
Save the Children
(647) 517-4563

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