Why East Africa’s Facing Its Worst Famine in Decades

A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in the Horn of Africa, which is in the grip of its worst drought in at least four decades. More than 20 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to find enough to eat, and over 1 million have fled their homes, according to the United Nations. With forecasters seeing a high risk of rains failing for a fifth consecutive season and aid flows falling short of what’s needed, the region is at risk of a famine that’s on a par with – or even worse than – one that Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s and claimed an estimated 1 million lives.

Millions of head of livestock have died, vast swathes of cropland have been decimated and rural communities have been torn apart as families migrate in search of food and grazing. Many parents can’t afford to keep their children in school, drop-out rates have soared and there are reports of girls as young as nine being married off for dowry payments or to ease economic pressure on households. The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said he’d seen starving babies who were too weak to cry when he visited Somalia in September. The UN expects a famine to be formally declared in parts of Somalia in the last quarter of 2022.

Climate change has resulted in extreme weather patterns, and nations across Africa have increasingly been contending with drought and flash floods. The coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have compounded the continent’s woes, making it more expensive and difficult to obtain supplies of food, fuel and fertilizer. Food prices have since eased, but relief has yet to filter through to most consumers.

Several other sub-Saharan countries are confronting hunger crises of their own, among them South Sudan, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. The International Monetary Fund estimated in September that at least 123 million people across the region, or 12% of the population, won’t be able to meet their minimum food consumption needs, an increase of 28 million over just two years. Contributing factors included soaring food prices, depressed incomes, extreme weather events, insecurity and disruption of supply chains. 

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