Approximately 28 million East Africans are starving, and will face even more severe hunger if the region does not receive rainfall in March. This is the warning of Oxfam, a global social justice organisation.
Oxfam says further cause for worry is that commodity prices have been spiking as a result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, exacerbating already-intense food insecurity and malnourishment.
The organisation believes that the unfolding crisis in Ukraine may draw the international community’s attention away from the issues Africa faces, and thus will result in a delay in assistance.
“East Africa faces a profoundly alarming hunger crisis. Areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and beyond are experiencing an unfolding full-scale catastrophe. Even if the rains do arrive this month, full recovery will be near impossible unless urgent action is taken today,” said Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam’s executive director.
“A massive ‘no regrets’ mobilisation 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.”
Severely indebted governments
Increases in global food and commodity prices caused by Covid-19 were already eroding the options available to severely indebted African governments to address the mass hunger that afflicted their people.
However, the Ukraine crisis will have far-reaching additional effects, as it is already driving up food and commodity prices beyond the means of East African nations.
These countries buy up to 90% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Food prices are beginning to rise as global trade in cereals, oil, transportation, and fertilizer is disrupted.
Last week, they reached an all-time high. The price of staple cereals in Somalia was more than double that of the previous year.
“In 2010-2011, 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,” Bucher added.
Ahmed Mohamud Omar, a pastoralist in Wager County, Kenya shared that the droughts have resulted in him losing donkeys to dehydration.
“Due to the droughts our donkeys have perished and the ones remaining are too weak to pull carts. My only tuk-tuk is now parked idle because I can’t afford its fuel. I no longer have my camels or goats, I think about what will my family eat, where will their next meal come from, whether I will get the daily jerri can of water,” he said.
The humanitarian response is inadequately underfunded, despite the dire need.
Yet, only 3% of the $6 billion UN humanitarian appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan has been funded. Kenya has only received 11% of the UN’s flash appeal so far.
“The world cannot again talk itself into inertia as people are pushed into extreme food insecurity. To not act now would be immoral and a dereliction of the humanitarian imperative,” said Bucher.
How countries are impacted by drought
- In the first quarter of 2022, almost 13 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia were displaced in search of water and pasture. Conflicts forced millions of others to evacuate their farms and homes, particularly in Ethiopia, where 9.4 million people now require immediate humanitarian assistance.
- The region has been hit by the greatest locust epidemic in 70 years, as well as flash floods that have displaced almost a million people in South Sudan.
Kenya’s crop output has dropped by 70%, and the country has declared a national calamity, with 3.1 million people facing acute famine and in desperate need of assistance. In Kenya, about half of all households are forced to borrow food or purchase it on credit.
- In Somalia, more than 671,000 people have lately left their homes due to a catastrophic drought that has affected about 90% of the country. Almost half of Somali children under the age of five will be severely malnourished as a result of this.
- Ethiopia is experiencing its highest level of food insecurity since 2016, with 3.5 million people in the Somali region alone facing serious water and food shortages. Almost a million livestock animals have died, leaving pastoralists completely reliant on herding for subsistence. Women share us heartbreaking stories of skipping meals in order to feed their children.