East Africa is currently suffering the worst drought in 40 years. This already worrying situation has been further aggravated by four bad rainy seasons in a row, economic crises caused by COVID-19, and conflicts. All this is compounded by the effects of the war in Ukraine, which are threatening food supplies and causing prices to as much as double. Swiss Solidarity is helping.
Hunger in East Africa: A situation that has been deteriorating over the years
The Horn of Africa — Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia — is currently experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, and it has been worsening over the past few years. Four consecutive poor rain seasons have led to an exceptional drought affecting Somalia, southern and southeastern Ethiopia, and eastern Kenya. Rising food prices due to the war in Ukraine, conflicts and lack of governance in the region further aggravate the situation. A lot of people are forced to leave their homes in a desperate search of food, pasture, water and alternative livelihoods.
Swiss Solidarity is supporting those affected by drought in the Horn of Africa and in neighbouring countries.
The drought in East Africa in numbers
This drought may just be one of the worst climate-related crises to hit the Horn of Africa in recent memory.
Over 36 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering food and water shortages because of the drought affecting the Horn of Africa.
5 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Young girls and boys are being hit particularly hard, as food and milk are extremely scarce.
In addition, almost 9 million livestock, which the nomadic families need for their livelihood, have died and the harvests have failed.
In the affected regions, food prices continue to rise due to a combination of factors: below-average harvests and high raw material and fuel prices on international markets as a direct result of the war in Ukraine.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General warned of an imminent “hurricane of hunger” and said that “we must do everything possible to avert a meltdown of the global food system. This war goes far beyond Ukraine. It is also an assault on the world’s most vulnerable people and countries.”
Hunger by drought: A looming humanitarian disaster
Because of a recurring lack of rainfall and the resulting climate-induced drought, people have been unable to make provisions for bad times and are already relying on aid. Furthermore, due to the staggering humanitarian needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, East Africa is losing out on urgently needed aid funds from states, organisations and the public.
The world’s 45 least developed countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan, import at least of one third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia – Somalia imports as much as 90% of its wheat from these two countries. “Now their granary is being bombed,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Additionally, due to the enormous humanitarian needs in Ukraine and its neighboring countries, urgently needed relief funds from states, organisations and the public for the drought in East Africa is not forthcoming.
All these factors point to an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. Several of our Swiss partner organisations are already providing urgently needed aid in the affected countries today.
“East Africa is heading for an insidious humanitarian catastrophe, barely visible but massive in scale. A four-season drought wiped out harvests and livestock. We can alleviate the consequences of the impending famine by supporting the most vulnerable people.”
The current devastating situation surrounding the drought in East Africa has several causes. A repeated lack of rainfall has made it impossible for populations to prepare for future droughts by building up reserves. The idea of reserves—food, livestock or seeds—is that you can draw on them in bad times. But when it becomes impossible for people to build up reserves for several years in a row, it becomes equally impossible to draw on them in a dire situation like the one we are seeing today. Other factors influencing the situation include conflicts that are forcing families to leave their homes, livestock or pastures, rising food prices due to the war in Ukraine, and plagues of locusts that have wiped out major crops in recent years.
In 2017, Swiss Solidarity raised over CHF 19 million in donations with the help of the people of Switzerland. This made it possible for 12 of our Swiss partner organisations to carry out more than 20 projects, which helped to avert the most dramatic outcomes. As in 2017, the situation has been worsening steadily over time. However, other factors could lead the current situation to deteriorate further, especially the ripple effects the war in Ukraine is having on the global food situation. The sheer duration of the drought, which has made it impossible to build up emergency food stocks, along with conflicts and the economy, which took a severe hit during COVID-19, are also threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.
With donations from the people of Switzerland, we can, among other things, carry out projects with our Swiss partner organisations already working on the ground to distribute food and provide the population with access to drinking water. We also make it possible for people, even those who have lost their livelihood, to buy food and treat the sick and injured. We use your donations to fund projects being led by our Swiss partner organisations on the ground.
Over 36 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering from food and water shortages. Children are being hit especially hard: some 5 million children in the Horn of Africa are already suffering from acute to severe malnutrition, leaving them weakened and much less able to fight diarrhoeal diseases and others, such as cholera.
The current drought in East Africa is the result of several years of below-average or a complete lack of rainfall in the region. The drought is most likely linked to climate change and could be one of the worst such crises to hit the Horn of Africa in recent memory. In addition to the climate-related challenges caused by below-average rainfall, factors such as conflicts, rising food prices and locust infestations are further complicating matters.
Yes, the war in Ukraine is having a big impact on the situation in East Africa, as well as on other regions of the world. Together, Ukraine and Russia are responsible for 30% of the world’s wheat supply. Around 20% of the world’s maize supply also comes from these two countries, as does 80% of the world’s sunflower oil. If this supply from Ukraine and Russia drops significantly, the people of East Africa will be able to import less food or will be dealt a severe blow by skyrocketing food prices. Countries that rely on imports of significant quantities of these foods are greatly affected—for example, Somalia imported 90% of its wheat from Ukraine and is now facing additional problems.
Swiss Solidarity’s Swiss partner organisations working on the ground – including Caritas Switzerland, HEKS, Die Stiftung Terre des hommes, Helvetas, Medair and Save the Children Switzerland – are already providing emergency aid to ensure access to clean drinking water, health care and food through cash distributions. They also run projects to treat and prevent malnutrition among children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.