Jul 21, 2022 - World

Millions in East Africa face "catastrophic" hunger, aid groups warn

People displaced due to the drought wait for assistance in a camp on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia. Photo: Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
People displaced due to the drought wait for assistance in a camp on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia. Photo: Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Aid groups are sounding the alarm about the worsening conditions in East Africa, where a prolonged drought and rising food prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine are making severe humanitarian crises even more dire.

What's happening: An estimated 20 million people across the region will go hungry by September, with at least 3 million facing "emergency and catastrophic levels of hunger" and possible death if the international community doesn't deliver urgently needed aid, the International Rescue Committee warned this week.

  • In Somalia, at least 7 million people could be at risk of "catastrophic famine" in the next two months without aid, the IRC said.
  • In parts of Ethiopia, 600,000 children will require treatment for severe acute malnutrition by the end of the year, the UN children's agency said on Tuesday.
  • Since the beginning of this year, the number of people on the brink of famine in Kenya had tripled to 1.1 million as of June, per the IRC.
  • Together Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia represent 2% of the world population but 70% of extreme food insecurity, IRC president David Miliband said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C. this week.

Driving the news: The worst drought the region has seen in decades, ongoing conflict and the pandemic-driven economic crisis have contributed to the dire humanitarian situation in Horn of Africa.

  • At the same time, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the crisis by driving up the prices of food, fertilizer and fuel.
  • Ukraine and Russia have historically produced 90% of the wheat imported by the East Africa region, per World Food Program.
  • Aid groups welcomed recent announcements of additional aid for East Africa, including more $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance from USAID, but warned more is needed.

What they're saying: "There is nothing natural about famines in the 21st century. While a complex set of factors are driving extreme hunger, the slide into famine and mass death is man-made, driven by international inaction," Miliband said in a statement this week.

  • Separately, UNCIEF director of emergency operations Manuel Fontaine, who recently visited Ethiopia's Somali region, noted that "drought not only means lack of water. It means that children are going hungry and thirsty every day."
  • Children "are forced to walk miles in search of food and water and often they have to drink from contaminated water sources. This leads to malnutrition and other killer preventable diseases like diarrhea,” Fontaine added in a statement.

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