Climate and food crisis in East Africa

Amina (50) is the mother of 12 children. She is from Qararo. She arrived in the Gunagado displacement camp in 2017 after the drought killed her family's cattle and an outbreak of disease (probably cholera) endangered her family.

Amina, 50, arrived in the Gunagado displacement camp in 2017 in search of food and water after the drought killed her cattle and an outbreak of disease endangered her family. Pastoralist communities in the Somali region have been suffering 4 years of erratic rains and millions of people have lost their livestock. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Eastern Africa is in the grip of a devastating food crisis. More than 22 million people are in need of humanitarian aid as climate extremes have caused widespread food shortages. Millions more lives are at risk as the region gets infested by locust swarms which represent an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods. Oxfam is on the ground, providing lifesaving food, clean water and sanitation but we urgently need your help to do more.

“We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently.”

Mohammed Hassan Abdille
Farmer from Bura Dhima in Tana River, Kenya

A cycle of devastating drought and floods

An extreme lack of food is causing severe hunger and malnutrition across Eastern Africa, following consecutive failed rainy seasons, prolonged drought and in some areas subsequent floods.

These weather extremes have devastated millions of lives, cut people’s ability to access food and left them very vulnerable to future shocks. The crisis is compounded as millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in the region due to conflict. 

In the Horn of Africa 15 million people are in need of emergency food and water due to severe drought across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The drought has caused crops to fail and cattle to die while the lack of clean water increases the threat of cholera and other diseases. As is so often the case, women and children are the worst affected. 

Seven years after South Sudan plunged back into conflict the country remains in the midst of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Nearly half of the population – 6 million people – are facing extreme hunger. This will likely increase in 2020 as recent devastating flooding has washed away people’s crops, livestock and food reserves, stretching people to their limits.

A farmer trying to chase locusts away in Katitika village, Kitui county, Kenya

Desert locusts have swarmed into Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia, destroying farmland. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

The worst locust outbreak in decades

The region is now racing against time to tackle a desert locust invasion. Millions are sweeping across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, in the worst plague in decades. They have reached Uganda and threaten Sudan and South Sudan, and the swarm is still growing.

This outbreak has been made worse by the climate crisis, with unusually heavy rains leading to a growth of vegetation in arid areas, providing locusts with more food, and the conditions needed to develop and reproduce. An average swarm can contain up to 40 million insects, travel up to 150 km in a single day and consume enough food to feed 34 million people within that time.

If left unaddressed, the infestation could last until June, devastating pastures and grasslands and ruin new food crops from the March-to-July growing season.

Oxfam’s response

Oxfam and its partners are currently helping hundreds of thousands of people with life-saving support in these countries by providing emergency food, clean water and rapid flexible cash assistance, matched with longer-term support to help communities be more resilient to the changing climate. We prioritize support for women, as they are disproportionately affected by the crisis with increased livelihood and childcare burdens, plus higher risks of sexual violence.  

We are gearing up our humanitarian operations to respond to the locust outbreak and will work closely with local partners and communities. We will aim to reach over 190,000 of the most vulnerable people with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds, and health services.

We can stop the worst from happening. You can save lives by supporting Oxfam’s work providing emergency help to those who need it most. 

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