On the brink of starvation: our urgent call to the UK Government  

Tree in barren landscape
On the road in Marsabit, Kenya. (Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide, Sept. '20)
News17 May 2022Charlotte Hussey

The Horn of Africa is experiencing one of its most severe droughts in recent history, with more than 15 million people at risk of starvation. The UK Government can help avert crisis with urgent support.  

The drought is catastrophic for affected families already living in extreme poverty. Harvests have failed and millions of livestock are emaciated or dead, pushing people to the brink of starvation and destroying livelihoods. About 5.5 million children are expected to be acutely malnourished across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, and families are taking desperate measures to survive, including leaving their homes and possessions, to find the most basic of human necessities, food and water.  

The crisis in Ukraine has exasperated the situation, causing food and energy prices to rocket. This crisis has contributed to the cost of the World Food Programme’s local food basket, and the amount of food required in order to meet people’s essential needs is set to increase dramatically.

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

But there is hope. In the 2016/2017 drought crisis, a quick and substantive global response led to millions of lives being saved. This same approach is needed now. 

What we are calling on the UK Government to do

We need to UK Government to show leadership and uphold the G7 Famine Compact and Nutrition for Growth Commitments, including new funding to prevent famine in countries already on the brink.  

The Government has just announced a £25 million aid package for Somalia, over and above its announcement earlier this year, which brings its allocation to a total of £40 million. However, while we welcome this, it falls well under its fair share of urgent funding to prevent starvation and death for millions across the Horn of Africa. To compare, the UK allocated over £400 million to Somalia over 2016 and 2017 to prevent the drought from worsening to catastrophic famine.  

This year’s drought is being compared to 2011, during which, the Horn saw the worst hunger crisis this century resulting in the deaths of over a quarter of a million people. The rains in Somalia have been below-average for the fourth consecutive season. 

The UK government must step up its efforts. Together with other international charities, we have called on the UK Government to urgently commit £750 million of new and additional humanitarian and development funding, similar to its spending levels in 2016-17 to ensure that we do not see a repeat of 2011.  

We need the Government to reverse cuts to international aid by returning to a commitment of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI), with funding for Ukraine an addition to existing commitments, not a diversion of funds from other urgent crises.  

What will this funding provide? 

Concern staff checks the health of Nyanga (2.5 years old) at a health clinic in Marsabit, Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan / Concern Worldwide
Concern staff checks the health of Nyanga (2.5 years old) at a health clinic in Marsabit, Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan / Concern Worldwide

We are already fighting to prevent the situation from getting worse by treating tens of thousands of people suffering from severe malnutrition, providing emergency water and cash to buy food, repairing boreholes and wells, and vaccinating livestock against disease. But more is needed to prevent the starvation of millions. With substantial support from the UK Government, the needs of many more families in the Horn of Africa could be met.  

Urgent food and cash transfers 

The most pressing need is providing food and cash to families so that they can avoid starvation and purchase things like medicine to support their individual needs.  

Resilience among communities

Giro Dima, concern worker, speaks to sheep and Goat farmer Makaya Efuri in Kenya. Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide
Giro Dima, concern worker, speaks to sheep and Goat farmer Makaya Efuri in Kenya. Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide

Despite successful resilience-building efforts across the region, communities have been finding it harder to recover between the increasingly frequent and severe droughts – three in the past ten years alone. The increasing frequency of shocks in the region, compounded by conflict, locusts and Covid-19, has meant that the vulnerable have little space to recover and bounce back. 

It is paramount that we continue building resilience with a renewed effort in communities where less rain and more drought could, with climate change, become the norm.

Providing aid to communities in extremely hard-to-reach areas 

The Horn of Africa is known as one of the most inhospitable places on Earth; the landscape is made of sand and volcanic rock, and temperatures can reach up to 60 degrees Celsius. It is difficult and expensive to reach remote areas, but we must in order to save lives. The longer we leave this, the higher the scale and cost of the necessary response.

Extreme geographies. Extreme climate challenges.  Extreme crises. Nothing will stop Concern fighting extreme poverty.   

Our teams on the ground are working together with people living in the most difficult situations, rebuilding and transforming lives, livelihoods and communities.  

We need your help to continue saving lives in this extreme drought

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