UK government must act now to avert famine in East Africa - Oxfam

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The UK government must urgently provide at least £900 million to help avert widespread starvation and death in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan, Oxfam said today ahead of a meeting of governments and international donors on the crisis in Geneva.

Up to 28 million people across East Africa are facing severe hunger as rains are failing in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for the fourth consecutive season while South Sudan is suffering a fifth year of severe flooding.

Despite the scale of the crisis, just three per cent of the UN’s $6 billion appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan is funded, while Kenya has only secured 17.5 per cent of its UN appeal to date.

John Plastow, Oxfam GB’s Chief Impact Officer, who recently visited drought-affected areas in Ethiopia and Kenya, said:

“The drought is already having a devastating impact. The most vulnerable people are dying. Livestock – a precious lifeline for so many – are being wiped out. Families are travelling huge distances in a desperate search for food and water. Women weak from hunger and malnutrition are miscarrying and new born babies are dying. Many say it is the worst drought they have experienced in 40 years.

“We cannot wait until famine strikes; we must act now to save lives and prevent further suffering.”

In 2017, when 16 million people in the region were facing severe hunger, the UK provided £861m as part of the global response which helped avert widespread famine. Today, despite a higher number of people affected, UK funding is only a third of what it was in 2017 with £288m allocated to the countries over the last year. This includes just £24m in 2022 to address drought, flooding and hunger when there have been repeated warnings of a looming crisis. In contrast, £100m each was provided by the UK to Somalia and South Sudan when the risk of famine became clear in early 2017.

UK aid to Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia has almost halved in the past year due to the cut in the international aid budget. The Ukraine crisis has put additional demand on dwindling aid funds while the conflict’s impact on global food and commodity prices looks set to exacerbate hunger in East Africa, with the region importing 90 per cent of its wheat.

Within a month of the start of the conflict, the UK Government promised £400 million in humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine where 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Plastow said: “The global response to the Ukraine crisis has shown that the world can act swiftly and generously with life-saving assistance when there is political will. But help for one crisis should not come at the expense of lives elsewhere in the world. Five years ago, the UK helped avert widespread catastrophe in East Africa. It needs to do the same again now.”

Oxfam is calling for at least a quarter of the funding to go to local organisations at the heart of the response and to be flexible so it can be used where it is most needed to save lives now, and to invest in the resilience of drought, flood and conflict-affected communities.

The ASAL Humanitarian Network is a network of 30 local and national organisations from the most affected dryland communities in Northern Kenya which first began its response to the drought in July 2021, ahead of the declaration of a national emergency.

Ahmed Ibrahim, Convener of ASAL Humanitarian Network said:

“We are currently in the fourth consecutive failed rainy season, and are witnessing a worsening crisis with famine looming. We are seeing increased numbers of people leaving their homes and communities due to the drought and serious rises in malnutrition levels. In some counties nearly half of livestock has died. All this is combined with dwindling purchasing power because of high inflation rates of 150-200 per cent of basic commodities.

“We are calling for increased funding for an immediate integrated and locally-led response. If we do not scale up the lifesaving response now, both in terms of the number of people being reached and the support they are receiving, it won’t be long before the current food crisis will deteriorate further with loss of human life and serious long-term effects.”

Last year the G7 committed to give $7 billion to help 42 countries one step away from famine. But so far this year the G7 funding for Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan has fallen well short of what is needed despite the threat of famine.


Notes to editors

  • The European Union and the UN are hosting a High-Level Roundtable on the Horn of Africa drought on Tuesday, 26 April 2022.
  • Source for the funding data is the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Financial Tracking Service (FTS), Not all funds are reported to the FTS and as the Humanitarian Response Plan for Ethiopia has yet to be agreed there are no funding figures available for the county.
  • G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact launched 5 May 2021
  • According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification an estimated 15-16 million people are already in IPC3 (acute or crisis level) and above in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, including people in IPC5 (famine-like conditions) in Somalia. 7.4 million people are already in IPC3 and above in South Sudan including 50, 000 people in IPC5. The projection is for between 28 and 29 million people at risk of IPC3 and above in East Africa if rains fail and insufficient humanitarian aid is delivered.
  • Oxfam, together with local partners, is responding to the crisis in East Africa and is aiming to help over 1.5 million people most in need with lifesaving water, cash, shelter and sanitation.

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