The food crisis in East Africa is expected to hit a new peak in July with one person dying of hunger every 28 seconds between now and then, Oxfam has warned.
Climate-induced drought, compounded by ongoing conflict and high food prices, has left over 40 million people across East Africa facing severe hunger – up by nearly two-thirds from last year – with 85,000 people in South Sudan and Somalia on the brink of famine.
Parts of Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia have been hit with five consecutive failed rainy seasons and South Sudan has suffered a fifth consecutive season of severe flooding, decimating people’s ability to cope.
Following the latest escalation of violence in Sudan, 2 to 2.5 million additional people are expected to become acutely food insecure in the coming months. Six thousand refugees are also fleeing to South Sudan each day, putting an additional strain on a country where 63 percent are already facing extreme food insecurity – the highest level in the world.
Globally, some 345 million people are currently facing high levels of food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), with 43 million “one step away” from famine.
Despite this, the WFP said it had recently been forced to cut food rations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Palestine, with more cuts looming in Somalia and Chad.
Conflict, climate shocks, and subsequent displacement remain the main drivers of global hunger. Soaring food prices – driven by the war in Ukraine – have continued to push up the cost of living, with food inflation averaging 25.2 percent in Eastern Africa in March 2023.
The WFP has called for a renewed focus on social protection, such as insurance schemes and labour market regulations, and for all children to receive a nutritious meal in school daily.
“We need to step up assistance, especially when it comes to making our food systems more resilient,” said Cindy McCain, WFP’s executive director. “If we can prepare at-risk communities to handle future climate shocks, they won’t need emergency support the next time there’s a drought or flood.”
‘Political failure and injustice’
Oxfam also said it fears the UK government will reduce its funding for the East Africa food crisis, just two years after it brokered a deal to prevent famine at the G7 summit in Cornwall. The next G7 summit will start in Japan on Friday.
“The UK has gone from being a world leader in the fight against hunger to a laggard which is failing to live up to its own commitments,” said Magnus Corfixen, Oxfam’s humanitarian lead.
“People are dying not because the world lacks food or money but because of political failure and injustice. G7 countries are among those chiefly responsible for climate change, so the UK and others have a clear moral responsibility to support people in East Africa whose lives are being destroyed by a climate crisis they did not cause.”
The UK government is expected to announce its humanitarian aid allocation for East Africa at a high-level pledging event taking place next week in New York. Last year, the UK provided £156 million in humanitarian aid for East Africa, less than a fifth of the £861m provided in 2017-8 during the region’s last major hunger crisis.
“Every day that goes by without action means more avoidable deaths. More than 250 people are likely to die of hunger in East Africa in the time it takes G7 leaders to tuck into their dinner on Friday,” MrCorfixen said.