East Africa’s humanitarian crisis deteriorates rapidly as aid effort fails to keep pace

International agency Oxfam says governments and donors must act with greater urgency in the face of a deteriorating crisis and rising needs in East Africa. Donors must move beyond promises and immediately turn money pledged into action on the ground, as more than half a million people are at risk of starvation, the agency said.

The agency said the international community is failing to keep pace with a crisis that is spiraling out of control.

People affected set to rise by 25 percent to 15 million

The United Nations estimates that the total number of people in need could rise up by 25 per cent and surpass 15 million soon if urgent action on all fronts is not taken, such as providing emergency food, water and shelter. Despite generous pledges of money from some rich governments and donors their generosity is failing to keep pace with the level of need.

As the crisis deteriorates, the amount of money needed goes up. Last week, the UN increased its appeals for Somalia and Kenya by $600 million, bringing the funding shortfall to $1.47 billion. Although more money is in the pipeline, according to UN figures, as much as $280 million of the more than $700 million pledged in the past few weeks has not yet been committed to a particular activity. The priority now will be to convert what has been a generous response by donors so far into activities to save people's lives.

Oxfam looks to reach 3 million people but faces a $55 million shortfall

“East Africa’s humanitarian crisis is at the tipping point. Hundreds of thousands will face starvation unless donors step forward, maintain the generosity we have seen in recent weeks and help prevent a catastrophe,” said Elise Ford, spokesperson of Oxfam.

“Aid agencies on the ground are ready and we’ve deployed our best people. Where access is possible, aid agencies like Oxfam have increased their programs to reach people and save as many lives as we can. The question is whether donors are able to act as urgently and convert money into life-saving action,” said Ford.

Oxfam aims to scale up its work to reach 3 million people across Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. To do so it needs $91 million, and has so far raised $36 million, leaving a gap of $55 million.

More than 500,000 at risk of starvation

According to new figures by the United Nations 564,000 people are at risk of death without urgent intervention in the region. Some 183,000 refugees have left war-torn Somalia towards Ethiopia or Kenya since the beginning of year, according to the UN.

Famine likely to spread in Somalia

Oxfam warned that the next 3-4 months are set to worsen in Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of southern Somalia and the situation will remain classified as an “emergency” until the end of the year. The whole South of Somalia is likely to be declared a famine due to a combination of worsening pastoral conditions, further food price increases and poor harvest.

In Somalia, Oxfam is providing water and sanitation to more than 230,000 people on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The agency is also assisting over 60,000 who have fled drought zones of Southern Somalia and have arrived in the capital. Throughout Somalia, the agency is reaching over 500,000 people who benefit from various programs which include direct cash relief for displaced families, water and sanitation services, and cash for work projects amongst others.

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Notes to editors

What's causing the delay in turning pledges into firm commitments?

The $280 million in uncommitted pledges is made up of a combination of money that's been assigned to the region for drought response but not to a specific country, or to a country but the exact use of the money is still to be decided.

While in many ways, this represents good humanitarian practice so that money can be allocated on the basis of need, given the rising urgency of the situation, projects that can get money on the ground as soon as possible and start helping people in need must be prioritized. We are calling on donors who have made uncommitted pledges to ensure they convert these into commitments and action as soon as possible, focusing on those projects and activities that can reach people quickest. This will also depend on the UN system ensuring donors quickly move beyond good intention.

Contact information

  • Alun McDonald on +254 73666 6663 AMcDonald@Oxfam.org.uk
  • Janna Hamilton: in Dadaab. Available to do interview via BGan Satelitte and via mobile on +254 788638603  janna.hamilton@oxfam.org.nz