People wheeling jerrycans back to their house. Credit: Alun McDonald/Oxfam
Oxfam is providing emergency water supplies and helping look for more sustainable sources of water

East Africa food crisis

“Two successive poor rains, entrenched poverty and lack of investment in affected areas have pushed 13 million people into a fight for survival.”

Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia with emergency support after a major food crisis was declared in mid-2011.

Despite significant improvements in parts of the region, millions of people continue to need support to recover.

Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Progress Report, July 2011 – July 2012

The situation

In mid-2011 a major food crisis, affecting 13 million people, was declared across parts of East Africa, and Oxfam launched its largest ever funding appeal in the continent. Livestock died, harvests failed, and families’ livelihoods were destroyed. Tens of thousands of people are believed to have died – mainly in Somalia, where the first famine of the 21st century was announced.

The crisis continues. There have been significant improvements in some parts of the region since the emergency was declared, but millions of people continue to need support to recover, and forecasts for the next rains are poor. Communities need the basic services, infrastructure and capacities to ensure they are resilient in future. Rebuilding lives and livelihoods will take sustained effort for years to come.

Oxfam's response

View Oxfam in the Horn of Africa in a larger map

Oxfam has provided a variety of aid to more than 2.8 million people affected by the crisis in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, including rural pastoralists, small-scale farmers, the urban poor, and refugees.

Oxfam's response to the drought consists of a mixture of emergency aid, long-term development and prevention, and advocacy to address the root causes of chronic drought. Since the crisis broke out, Oxfam has been:

  • Providing clean, safe water;
  • Improving sanitation and public health;
  • Rebuilding livelihoods and increasing access to food, markets and services;
  • Working with partners from local civil society;
  • Supporting women;
  • Lobbying and advocating for long-term approaches to tackling food crises.


Somalia continues to be at the center of the crisis and one of the world’s biggest humanitarian emergencies, with severe drought exacerbated by years of conflict and restrictions on aid access by all parties. Insecurity makes Somalia one of the most difficult places to deliver aid. However, working with local Somali partner organizations, Oxfam has so far reached around 1.4 million people affected by the crisis (June 2012). Our work in Somalia includes:

  • 15 therapeutic feeding centers have treated 150,000 children in the past year;
  • Water systems benefiting 900,000 people;
  • Cash transfers benefiting nearly 200,000 people. Here's how the cash transfer program works (pdf);
  • Support for farmers;
  • Public health communications via mobile phone to mitigate the spread of cholera, reaching 100,000 people in IDP camps.


Oxfam is assisting over 400,000 people affected by the crisis in three regions of Ethiopia: Somali, Oromiya and Tigray. After good lowland rains and highland harvest at the end of last year, the situation eased. But, poor rain outlooks for this year mean a likely further blow to families affected by drought last year, with some areas potentially facing a crisis similar in scale to last year.

A major focus of our work in Ethiopia involves helping communities to look for more sustainable sources of water, by drilling boreholes, developing motorized water schemes, and improving traditional water harvesting systems. In the driest and most affected areas we have also been trucking in emergency water supplies to over 32,000 people. The water is treated and used for drinking, cooking, washing and keeping animals alive. Each person gets at least five liters of water per day – the bare minimum that people need.

Watch: Fighting drought in Ethiopia: All hands to the pump


Oxfam is supporting around 1 million people affected by the crisis in Kenya, mainly in the remote northern drylands such as Turkana and Wajir, and the Dadaab refugee camp.

People in these areas rely on their livestock as their main source of income and nutrition, but the drought has left the animals weak, dying and hard to sell. Oxfam’s “de-stocking” program buys up some of the weakest goats and, sheep – ensuring that their owners get an income and some vital cash before their assets die. The meat from these animals is distributed to the community. Oxfam has also carried out animal health projects to ensure that breeding stock survive the drought.


Please consider helping fund our emergency work in East Africa. These Oxfam affiliates are running direct appeals for this food crisis:

Alternatively, you can also make a donation to the general emergency fund of your nearest national Oxfam affiliate. Your money will be used to fund our emergency work worldwide, which includes responding in countries such as Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Oxfam in East Africa, One year on: Thank You

Read more

> Update: Community care improves childrens' health in Somalia

> Blog: Getting aid into conflict-affected Somalia: difficult, but not impossible

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