UK ‘fiddling in the face of famine’ as extreme hunger more than doubles in climate hotspots – Oxfam

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Urgent help needed now in East Africa and beyond as 18 million on brink of starvation

New Prime Minister Liz Truss has a narrow window of opportunity to help prevent famine in East Africa, Oxfam said today as it accused world leaders of waiting for disaster to strike before acting.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, recently returned from the Somaliland regions of Sanaag and Togdheer where he saw first-hand the ‘heart breaking’ impact of the worst drought in living memory which has devastated pastoralist communities and left their way of life on the brink of extinction. Effects of the drought have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine which has driven up prices of staple foods – the price of a traditional breakfast pancake, for example, had tripled in the last six months.

The warning comes as Oxfam research found that ten of the world’s worst climate hotspots – those with the highest number of UN appeals driven by extreme weather events – have suffered a 123 per cent rise in acute hunger over just the past six years. One person is estimated to be dying every 48 seconds across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya due to hunger.

Those 10 climate hotspots – Somalia, Haiti, Djibouti, Kenya, Niger, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, and Zimbabwe – have repeatedly been battered by extreme weather over the last two decades. Today, 48 million people across those countries suffer acute hunger (up from 21 million in 2016), and 18 million people of them are on the brink of starvation.

Famine is expected to be declared by the end of this year in two of Somalia’s districts: Baidoa and Burhakaba if adequate help does not come. One million people have already been forced to flee their homes due to the drought and more than half of children across Somalia are expected to suffer acute malnutrition by July next year.

Sriskandarajah said: “People I spoke to said that the situation is the worst they have lived through. Four seasons of failed rains have devastated whole communities, decimating livestock and making it impossible for people to survive without outside help.

“It is heart breaking – these people have had their lives destroyed by a climate crisis that they did nothing to cause – many are struggling to get by on a single meal a day, sometimes nothing at all. Children are already dying. Yet rather than rush to help, those who bear responsibility of the crisis are watching and waiting for famine to be declared before scaling up assistance, which will be too late for thousands of people, who will have already lost their lives.”

Pastoralists whose livestock have died during the drought have sought refuge in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) where Oxfam and other agencies work to deliver aid including clean water and support to earn a living and where they are protected from predators, such as hyenas, who were attracted by the dead animals. Since mid-2021, more than three million livestock are estimated to have died in Somalia during the drought.

Despite looming famine, global funding is expected to decrease sharply with food assistance - which had increased, providing vital respite to many people - expected to reduce by half and the crisis expected to deteriorate further and faster by the end of the year.

Cuts to the UK aid budget mean that so far this financial year the UK has confirmed an allocation of £156 million for East Africa, less than a fifth (18 per cent) of the £861m provided in 2017-8 during the region’s last major hunger crisis which helped avert a widespread famine.

Sriskandarajah visited Burao general hospital whose unit for children with severe malnutrition has seen admissions double since the beginning of the year.

Sriskandarajah added: “The idea the UK would withdraw aid as the hunger crisis escalates is unconscionable. Fiddling in the face of famine is a betrayal of the idea of global Britain.

“The UK and other rich nations have a moral obligation to act now – countless lives depend upon it.

“The Government’s announcement last week of £22.8 million to Somalia is of course a small and welcome step in the right direction but it is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed and it is not clear whether it is new money.”

Climate-fuelled hunger is a stark demonstration of global inequality. Countries that are least responsible for the climate crisis are suffering most from its impact and are also the least resourced to cope with it. Collectively responsible for just 0.13 per cent of global carbon emissions, the 10 climate hotspots sit in the bottom third of countries least ready for climate change.

By contrast, polluting industrialized nations such as those of the G20 - which control 80 per cent of the world’s economy – are together responsible for over three-quarters of the world’s carbon emissions.

Leaders of these nations continue to support mega-rich polluting companies that are often big supporters of their political campaigns. Fossil fuel companies’ daily profits have averaged $2.8 billion over the last 50 years. Less than 18 days of those profits would fund the entire UN humanitarian appeal for 2022 of $49 billion.

Cancelling debt can also help governments free up resources to invest in climate mitigation.


Notes to the editors:

  • VNR and B-roll from Danny Sriskandarajah’s trip to the Somaliland regions of Sanaag and Togdheer - available here
  • Download Oxfam report Hunger in a Heating World.
  • The FSIN began producing the Global Reports on Food Crises in 2017. Sum of the population in IPC3+ food insecurity in the ten countries in 2016 (See GRFC 2017, p. 21) was 21.3 million and in 2021 (See GRFC 2022, pp. 30 – 33) was 47.5. The percent rise is therefore 123 per cent
  • The calculations of those facing starvation in the 10 countries is based on the total number of people at IPC 4 level of food insecurity and above in 2021, according to the GRFC 2022, see Understanding IPC classification
  • The 10 worst climate hotspots were calculated looking at countries with the highest number of extreme weather-related UN appeals since 2000, where climate was classified as a “major contributor” to these appeals. Source: Oxfam’s “Footing the Bill” report May 2022.
  • The 10 countries had the highest number of appeals linked to extreme weather, where climate was a major contributor to the appeal, according to the methodology outlined in the Oxfam (2022) Technical Note UN Humanitarian Appeals linked to Extreme Weather, 2000-2021. The figure on fivefold increase in climate disasters is according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) (WMO-No. 1267), Geneva.
  • The sum of cumulative carbon emissions of the 10 climate hotspots for 2020 is 0.002 trillion tons of carbon – that is 0.13 per cent of the world emissions (1.69 trillion tons of carbon) in same year. Source Our World in Data.
  • The sum of cumulative carbon emissions of the G20 countries for 2020 is 1.299570755 trillion tons of carbon, which is 76.60 per cent of global carbon emissions (1.696524177 trillion tons). Source Our World in Data.
  • The rank of 10 climate hotspots is 34 per cent according to calculations of percentiles of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) index scores of the 10 climate hotspots. ND-GAIN scores for 2020 retrieved from the ND-GAIN website.
  • For the fossil fuel industry’s daily average of $2.8 billion in profits over the last 50 years, which is also an annual average of $1.022 trillion, we used this 2022 article from the Guardian: Revealed: oil sector’s ‘staggering’ $3bn-a-day profits for last 50 years. Based on the daily average, we calculated that less than 18 days of company profits would cover the full UN global humanitarian appeal for 2022 of $48.82 billion. We used the annual average of $1 trillion to calculate the returns from an extra 1 per cent tax on fossil fuel profits ($10 billion). The Guardian (2022).
  • UN humanitarian appeal for 2022 is found at, last visited 30 August 2022. The food security portion of the appeal is $15.9 billion, of which $10.4 billion is unfunded as of 8 September 2022.

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