London, 20 May 2022 (TDI): Drought has ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, with one person dying of starvation every 48 seconds. This is the case, according to projections in an Oxfam and Save the Children report.

The research underlined the world’s continuous failure to prevent disasters that may have been avoided. Once again, the world has failed to prevent disturbing starvation in East Africa.

This happened after a decade of inaction in the aftermath of the 2011 Somalia famine. Over 260,000 people died as a result of the famine. The majority of them were under the age of five.

Hunger crisis in East Africa

Nearly half a million people in Somalia and Ethiopia are currently suffering from famine-like conditions. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are severely malnourished. The funding for urgent requests is terrible.

This is due to other issues, such as the conflict in Ukraine, which is worsening the region’s rising hunger crisis. Since last year, the number of people suffering from extreme hunger in the three countries has more than doubled.

The population has increased from around 10 million to over 23 million currently. This is despite severe debt that has more than tripled in less than a decade. From $20.7 billion in 2012 to $65.3 billion in 2020, it has tripled.

It drained the resources of these countries’ public services and social protection. The growth of the humanitarian aid system was studied since 2011. Jameel Observatory in partnership with the publication Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction looked into this.

It concludes that national and global measures have remained mainly ineffective. It was not enough to prevent a recurrence today. This is despite a better reaction to the 2017 East African drought, which prevented widespread starvation.

“Despite worsening warning signs over time, world leaders have responded woefully – too late and still too little – leaving millions of people facing catastrophic hunger. Starvation is a political failure”, said Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam International’s Executive Director.

A coordinated global response is nevertheless disadvantaged by entrenched bureaucracy and self-serving political decisions. The analysis indicates that this occurs despite better warning systems and efforts by local NGOs.

In reaction to several global crises, the G7 and other wealthy nations have retreated inwards. COVID-19 and, more recently, the Ukraine crisis are examples. It also includes breaking promises to help disadvantaged countries.

This is pushing the underprivileged to the edge of financial loss. East African governments are responsible for their own actions. They have been slow to respond and have often refused to accept the importance of the disaster on their entrances.

They have not put enough money into agriculture or social protection, which enables people to cope better with the causes of hunger, such as climatic and economic shocks. The paper also highlights funders’ and assistance agencies’ persistent failures.

They did not place local organizations at the forefront of the disaster response. Even when they were ready to act, this slowed down the response even more. People’s last coping mechanisms have been worn-out.

This is due to climate-related drought, which is worsened by wars that force people to flee their homes. This is also due to the COVID-19 economic downturn. The turmoil in Ukraine has also pushed already-rising food costs to their all-time high.

Millions of people have gone hungry as a result of the violence. Shako Kijala, Save the Children’s Regional Spokesperson for East and Southern Africa, said:

“We’re seeing horrific numbers of severe malnutrition with 5.7 million children currently acutely malnourished, including more than 1.7 million who are severely acutely malnourished.

And with the UN warning that more than 350,000 could die in Somalia if we do not act, the clock is ticking and every minute that passes is a minute too close to starvation and the possible death of a child. How can we live with that if we let it happen again?”

The Director of the Samburu Women Trust in Kenya, Jane Meriwas, said:

“The situation is devastating. Both human beings and livestock are at risk of dying, already children, pregnant mothers, and the elderly in some parts of Marsabit and Samburu Counties in Kenya are being reported as dying.

If urgent intervention is not provided now, we are likely to witness even more death”. Climate change has worsened and prolonged the La Nina-induced drought in the Horn of Africa, which is currently the worst in 40 years.

Drought has depleted economic reserves, herd size, and human health. These are the key contributors to the growing number of people who go hungry every day. Despite this, the region is one of the least responsible for the climate crisis.

It accounts for only 0.1 percent of global carbon emissions. “There are no cows left. They all died. We have a few camels and goats that have survived the drought, but we are afraid we might lose them if the drought continues.

We are afraid that people will start dying of famine as there is no food,” said Ahmed Mohamud, a pastoralist from Wajir, Kenya. As of yet, only 2% ($93.1 million) of the $4.4 billion UN appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia has been lawfully financed.

The same countries received $1.9 billion in emergency aid in 2017. Last month, though, donors pledged $1.4 billion in help. Only $377.5 million of that was fresh money, which is terrible.

“People are starving not because the world lacks food or money, but of a dismal lack of political courage. Rich nations successfully, and rightly, raised over $16bn 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.

“Donors, development agencies, governments, and the private sector must work together with affected communities to prepare and respond to risks, rather than wait for crises to spiral out of control,” says Guyo Roba, Head of the Jameel Observatory.

Action to tackle the hunger crisis in East Africa

Oxfam and Save the Children are appealing for immediate action to address East Africa’s devastating hunger crisis:

  • 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. They must ensure the funding is flexible enough to be used where it is most needed.
  • Donors must guarantee that at least 25 percent of funds go to local responders at the heart of the response.
  • The governments of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia must scale up social protection to help people cope with multiple shocks. They should invest at least 10 percent of their budgets in agriculture.
  • They must have 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 will 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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