Famine in East Africa
3 years of drought & civil war|Millions at risk|Malnourished children
Millions of men, women and children in East Africa are on the brink of famine and starvation. Drought and civil war have taken the region to the point of catastrophe.
Many families have started to depend on leaves and weevils available in bushes as their only source of food. People are leaving their homes in search of areas with food and water. In some areas, our health facilities are reporting a doubling of the number of malnourished children over the last few months.
For some, it’s already too late - but for millions on the knife edge, what we do over the next days and weeks will determine whether they live or die.
Golam Azam, our Country Director in South Sudan spells out the urgency:
“Lives have already been lost because people haven’t had enough to eat, and the situation worsens with every passing day. We can prevent more people from dying, but we must be able to reach them. And we need to reach them now”
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South Sudan is on its fourth year of a brutal civil war that has uprooted millions from their homes. The violence has prevented families from planting their crops for three planting seasons, leaving them with nothing to harvest. At the same time, the cost of basic food staples has skyrocketed while the value of the South Sudanese pound has plummeted. The fighting has also left some areas completely inaccessible to humanitarian organisations to deliver life-saving relief.
The two areas experiencing famine—Leer and Mayendit counties—are both in Unity State, which has been a flashpoint throughout the war. In Leer, our field teams estimate that as many as 70% of the population could be hiding in the bush and river islands—many of them unable to escape because of ongoing instability. At the same time, the area has been completely cut off from receiving humanitarian assistance.
“Lives have already been lost because they haven’t had enough to eat, and the situation worsens with every passing day. We can prevent more people from dying, but we must be able to reach them. And we need to reach them right now,” Muhammad Bakhtiar, International Medical Corps’ Medical Director in South Sudan. “We call on all parties to the conflict to immediately provide humanitarian organisations with safe, unrestricted access to communities in need.”
Somalia, which has also been ravaged by two decades of conflict, could face an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe if the spring rains fail. People in northern Somalia are already dying from the drought. Tragically, for many families, it is not the first time they have faced such conditions: drought and a subsequent famine hit Somalia in 2011, killing an estimated 260,000 people. Half of them were children.
Thousands of Somali families are on the move in search of food and water, with many seeking refuge in camps in Ethiopia. In the next three months, as many as 90,000 Somalis are expected to cross the border into Ethiopia in search of help. Today, eight out of ten children being screened in the refugee camps in the Ethiopian border area of Dolo Ado are malnourished. Eighty-nine percent of new arrivals into Dolo Ado are women and children.
“Half of the population in Somalia—6.2 million people—are in need of assistance,” said Mohamed Abdullahi, International Medical Corps’ Country Director for Somalia. “The drought has wiped out crops and livestock and forced families to sell assets or borrow money to survive. If the response does not scale up, communities in the hardest-hit areas will slide further and further into crisis and people will die—all from causes we could have prevented.”
Ethiopia & Kenya
Ethiopia and Kenya are also facing their driest period in decades as well as lost livestock and crops and rising food prices. The Government of Kenya has declared the drought a national disaster, with about 2.7 million people in need of food aid. In Ethiopia, still reeling from one of the strongest El Niño on record last year, 5.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Ethiopia is also hosting a large number of refugees from Somalia (245,000) and South Sudan (335,000)