One person is likely dying of hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, according to estimates by Oxfam and Save the Children in a report published on Wednesday in partnership with the Jameel Observatory, highlighting the world’s repeated failure to stave off preventable disasters.
More than a decade since the delayed response to the 2011 famine that killed more than 260,000 people in Somalia — half of them children under five — the world is once again failing to avert catastrophic hunger in East Africa. Today, nearly half a million people across parts of Somalia and Ethiopia are facing famine-like conditions. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are suffering from extreme hunger. Urgent appeals are woefully funded, as other crises, including the war in Ukraine, are worsening the region’s escalating hunger crisis.
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.
Dr. Guyo Roba, Head of the Jameel Observatory
The number of people experiencing extreme hunger in the three countries has more than doubled since last year — from over 10 million to more than 23 million today. This is against a backdrop of crippling debt that more than tripled in under a decade — from $20.7 billion in 2012 to $65.3 billion by 2020 — sucking these countries’ resources from public services and social protection.
The report, Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction, examines the changes in the humanitarian aid system since 2011. It finds that despite an improved response to the 2017 East Africa drought when widespread famine was averted, the national and global responses have largely remained too slow and too limited to prevent a repeat today.
“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 Gabriella Bucher, Oxfam International’s executive director.
Entrenched bureaucracies and self-serving political choices continue to curtail a unified global response, despite improved warning systems and efforts by local NGOs, the report finds.
The report sheds light on the continued failure of donors and aid agencies to prioritize local organizations at the forefront of the crisis response, which slowed down the response further, even when they were ready to act.
Save the Children’s regional spokesperson for East and Southern Africa Shako Kijala 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 possible death of a child. How can we live with that if we let it happen again?”
Dr. Guyo Roba, head of the Jameel Observatory, said: “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.”
Oxfam, Save the Children and the Jameel Observatory are calling for urgent action to tackle the catastrophic hunger crisis in East Africa. 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, and 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 response. Moreover, 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, with a particular focus on smallholder and female farmers, as they had agreed in the African Union Malabo Declaration of 2014.