A CHARITY is warning that the hunger crisis in East Africa will reach “catastrophic” proportions unless the global community steps in to take immediate action.

Christian Aid says the threat of starvation is continuing to hang over around 20 million people who are severely short of food in parts of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – and they’re warning that this figure could rise further.

The World Food Programme warned last week that emergency food aid for 7.8 million Ethiopians would run out by the end of this month – a claim that the government has denied, despite Ethiopia’s seasonal rains having failed again, putting even more strain on national and international relief efforts.

“The recent disappointing rains in Ethiopia, and also in Kenya, have shattered any faint hopes for water sources to fill up, pastures to regenerate and harvests to be viable,” said Maurice Onyango, the charity’s head of humanitarian programmes for Africa.

“It has left communities even more reliant on outside aid, stretching humanitarian agencies and local authorities to their limits.

“Christian Aid is reaching tens of thousands of people with life-saving assistance, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“If we are to avert an unprecedented famine in the region, then much more help is sorely needed. What is, today, a major crisis will tomorrow become a monumental catastrophe unless the international community find more funds to respond.”

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SEVERE drought is the short answer, and it has caused famine in some areas, along with malnutrition, displacement and the spread of disease, leaving millions facing starvation.

In Kenya – where the government has declared a national disaster – a charity boss is arguing that East African countries could have prevented the crisis by learning from past mistakes.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré – African regional director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Kenyan capital Nairobi – says countries such as Ethiopia have at least seven million people dependent on food aid that is fast running out.

He blames poor governance and planning for the crises in East Africa repeating themselves, and says the underlying causes are rarely addressed.

A global conference in 1974 resolved that within a decade no child would go hungry, yet he said: “Exactly a decade later, almost one million Ethiopians died in one of the worst famines in recent history.

“This was not the last one. Famines have been recurring, and they will return, unless public authorities, the donor community, United Nations agencies, regional bodies and national institutions genuinely refocus their efforts on dealing with the underlying causes.”

Nafo-Traoré says some of the causes – particularly conflicts – are man-made, and that governments should be investing in longer-term solutions to break the cycle of food insecurity in East Africa.


THE aid effort is massive. Christian Aid works with the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations delivering humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development to many of the worst-affected areas.

In South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, the charity is helping around 50,000 people. Onyango, who lives in Nairobi, has travelled to drought-hit parts of Kenya and Ethiopia to support this work.

He said: “The scale and intensity of this crisis is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my 17 years as a humanitarian worker. Successive droughts and, in some cases, conflict, has stripped people of their ability to cope.

“Every day children, women and men starve to death, from lack of food and lack of water. In Kenya and Ethiopia, livestock are dying in their thousands, leaving pastoralist families with no animals, no food, no assets and no option but to hope and pray for help to come.”

Christian Aid is working with partner groups to provide safe, clean drinking water to over 21,000 people, distributing food vouchers to over 600 families, feeding hundreds of livestock owned by nearly 1250 sheep or cattle farmers and providing cash support for 1600 families.

Its partners are also distributing food and fishing materials to 6000 people in South Sudan’s famine-hit Unity State – the fish in the region’s swamps offer a reliable source of nutrition for hard-to-reach communities.

Before this latest crisis the charity had been working in areas such as North Horr, a village in Kenya’s Eastern Province, teaching people how to protect themselves against the impacts of the increasingly frequent droughts, in some cases by storing hay or building underground water tanks.

Onyango said such measures do pay off. “I have seen first-hand the difference this makes," he said. "It can, and does, save lives.

“If the world wants to avert future catastrophes of this scale, we need to invest in helping communities become more resilient to disasters.”