The spectre of starvation haunts millions as East Africa’s food crisis rages on

East Africa’s hunger crisis will reach catastrophic proportions without immediate action from the global community, Christian Aid has warned.

The spectre of starvation continues to hang over some 20 million people severely short of food in parts of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. This figure could rise further still, Christian Aid has said today.

Last week the World Food Programme warned that emergency food aid for 7.8 million Ethiopians would run out by the end of June – a claim the government denies. Meanwhile Ethiopia’s seasonal rains have failed once again, putting yet more strain on national and international relief efforts.

Christian Aid’s Head of Humanitarian Programmes for Africa, Maurice Onyango, said: “The recent disappointing rains in Ethiopia, and also in Kenya, have shattered any faint hopes for water sources to fill up, pastures to regenerate and harvests to be viable. It has left communities even more reliant on outside aid, stretching humanitarian agencies and local authorities to their limits.

“Christian Aid is reaching tens of thousands of people with life-saving assistance, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we are to avert an unprecedented famine in the region, then much more help is sorely needed. What is, today, a major crisis will tomorrow become a monumental catastrophe unless the international community find more funds to respond.”

Christian Aid is helping nearly 50,000 people in some of the worst affected parts of South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Mr Onyango, who lives in Nairobi, recently travelled to drought-hit regions in Kenya and Ethiopia to support this work.

He said: “The scale and intensity of this crisis is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my 17 years as a humanitarian worker. Successive droughts and, in some cases, conflict, has stripped people of their ability to cope.

“Every day children, women and men starve to death, from lack of food and lack of water. In Kenya and Ethiopia, livestock are dying in their thousands, leaving pastoralist families with no animals, no food, no assets and no option but to hope and pray for help to come.”

Through local partners, Christian Aid is providing safe, clean drinking water to over 21,000 people, distributing food vouchers to 600 families, feeding hundreds of livestock owned by nearly 1,250 pastoralists, and providing support cash 1,600 families.

Christian Aid’s partners are also distributing food and fishing materials to 6,000 people in South Sudan’s famine-hit Unity State: the fish in the region’s swamps offer a reliable source of nutrition for hard-to-reach communities.

Before the food crisis, Christian Aid had been working in places such as North Horr, Kenya, teaching people how to protect themselves against the impacts of ever-frequent droughts – for instance, by storing hay or building underground water tanks.

“I have seen firsthand the difference this makes: it can, and does, save lives,” said Mr Onyango. “If the world wants to avert future catastrophes of this scale, we need to invest in helping communities become more resilient to disasters.”

Christian Aid launched a fundraising appeal for the East Africa crisis in February 2017.

Melanie Hargreaves

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