More than 28 million people are facing life threatening food insecurity across East Africa. In drought-stricken Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, it is estimated that one person is dying every 36 seconds from hunger and more than 7 million children are acutely malnourished across the three countries.
The letter says: “East Africa is facing a catastrophic hunger crisis caused by one of the worst droughts in living memory. It is looking increasingly likely that a fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the region, leaving millions of families in a desperate situation and facing starvation (…)
“Although a full-scale famine is yet to be officially declared, what we are seeing on the ground is a famine in all but name. Despite the rapidly mounting death toll, the international response is woefully underfunded and the UK has failed to do its bit.”
Despite an announcement of humanitarian aid to Somalia last Friday, the UK has confirmed an allocation of just £156 million this year for East Africa. This amount is less than a fifth (18 per cent) of the £861m provided in 2017-18 during the region’s last major hunger crisis which helped to avert a widespread famine.
The letter calls for the UK to step up and show this leadership again before it’s too late.
Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP and former Secretary of State for International Development, said: “The UK has long had a strong record of leadership in response to acute hunger crises. All of us, across all political parties, have a responsibility to live up to that legacy. There are now millions of people across East Africa who are facing the worst drought in living memory, and their acute hunger is being made worse by the war in Ukraine.
“If the Government is serious about saving lives and persuading others to do more, we must lead by example by stepping up support to those in need today.”
Oxfam’s CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah, who recently visited the Somali regions of Sannag and Togdheer, said: “People I met said the situation was the worst in living memory. Communities have run out of ways to cope and families have been stretched to breaking point.
“It is incomprehensible that with hunger likely claiming a life in the region every 36 seconds, the UK Government have failed to respond in any meaningful way. The time to act is now.”
Patrick Watt, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, said: “Millions of people across East Africa are facing a crisis on crisis. Given the growing number of deaths from hunger and starvation, the response to date from the UK Government borders on the grossly negligent.
“East Africa must not be forgotten. It is past time that Government Ministers lived up to their responsibility and ensure that the UK commits its fair share of the aid needed to address this rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis.”
As well as stepping up to save lives, the letter’s signatories say it is vital that the UK Government acts to stop crises like this from happening again by investing in resilience building approaches to help people break the cycle.
Christine Allen Director of CAFOD, who visited northern Kenya earlier this year, said: “The families I met in Kenya were well used to adapting when things get tough, but this drought has been unprecedented, leaving families who otherwise cope finding themselves in desperate situations. People are doing what they can to support each other, but they need aid urgently.
“The scale of need goes beyond what charities can do. The UK must step up. The Government has cut aid to East Africa to well below that in 2017, yet for many the situation is as bad as it has ever been. This cannot go on, without action now millions face losing their lives.”
CARE International’s CEO, Eamon Cassidy, said: “For months on end, women and girls in East Africa have been fighting to stay alive. They often eat less and eat last and are forced to risk their personal safety simply to survive. Their strength, resolve and ingenuity is beyond question.
“For too long, the UK Government has done too little to help women and girls across East Africa in this struggle against hunger and poverty. Increased funding would help provide life-saving food and water supplies, enabling girls to stay in school, reduce their exposure to violence and build a better future.”
Full text of the letter:
Right now, East Africa is facing a catastrophic hunger crisis caused by one of the worst droughts in living memory. It is looking increasingly likely that a fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the region, leaving millions of families in a desperate situation and facing starvation.
In drought-stricken Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, it is estimated that one person is dying every 36 seconds from hunger. More than 7 million children are acutely malnourished across the 3 countries. Mothers are burying their children and extremely vulnerable people are waking up and going to bed hungry every single day. In neighbouring South Sudan, devastating floods have also destroyed several seasons of crops and over half of the population are facing acute food insecurity. Women, girls and children are being disproportionately impacted.
This emergency has been caused by a lethal cocktail of crises, which have come one on top of the other. The unprecedented droughts and floods have undoubtedly been exacerbated by climate change, a clear example of the devastating loss and damage which these communities did little to cause. While ongoing conflict in the region has led to more people being displaced, the impact of the war in Ukraine has meant crucial supplies of essentials like grain and cooking oil are not getting through. And as food prices have skyrocketed here in the UK and the world-over, millions of people in the East Africa region who were already facing extreme poverty and hunger are now being pushed over the edge.
Communities that aid agencies have worked with for decades have run out of ways to cope and been stretched to breaking point as the precious crops and livestock that so many rely upon for a living have been decimated. Although a full-scale famine is yet to be officially declared, what we are seeing on the ground is a famine in all but name. Services that treat malnutrition are struggling to cope with the numbers. Despite the rapidly mounting death toll, the international response is woefully underfunded and the UK has failed to do its bit.
As Prime Minister, you have an opportunity to help prevent a huge humanitarian catastrophe, but action is needed now. During the 2017 crisis, the UK gave £861 million to help avert famine in the region and we need to see the UK step up and show this leadership again before it’s too late.
As well as acting to save lives now, it is vital that the UK Government also acts to stop crises like this from happening again by investing in resilience building approaches to help people to break the cycle. Tackling the climate crisis must also be a top priority, even now the UK has handed over the COP Presidency.
We implore you not to stand by as so many lives hang in the balance.
Full list of signatories:
- Waseem Ahmad, CEO, Islamic Relief
- Christine Allen, Director, CAFOD
- Rev Celia Apeagyei-Collins, Founder of the Rehoboth Foundation
- Martin Barber, OBE, former Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
- Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP
- Lord Malcolm Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Select Committee
- Rose Caldwell, CEO, Plan International UK
- Matthew Carter, CEO, Depaul International
- Marian Casey-Maslen, Executive Director, CDAC Network
- Eamon Cassidy, CEO, Care International UK
- John Good, CEO, Action Aid UK
- Jean-Michel Grand, Director of Action Against Hunger UK
- Nigel Harris, CEO, Tearfund
- Danny Harvey, Executive Director, Concern Worldwide UK
- Nimo Hassan, Director, Somali NGO Consortium
- Gwen Hines, CEO, Save the Children UK
- Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover
- Mukesh Kapila, CBE, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs, University of Manchester
- Randolph Kent, PhD, Visiting Professor, African Leadership Centre, King's College London
- Laura Kyrke-Smith, Executive Director, International Rescue Committee UK
- Alison Marshall, CEO, Age International
- Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
- Mark Sheard, CEO, World Vision UK
- Clare Short, former Secretary of State for International Development
- Dr Hugo Slim, Senior Research Fellow, Las Casas Institute for Social Justice, University of Oxford
- Rory Stewart OBE President of GiveDirectly
- Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO, Oxfam GB
- Sir Stephen Timms, MP
- Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, Bishop of Islington
- Patrick Watt, CEO, Christian Aid