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Why starvation = failure

When famine is officially declared, often more than half of the estimated deaths have already occurred. To declare famine would be to declare failure.

The crisis in East Africa is the result of a lack of political will. World leaders have the power to collectively provide the necessary funding, but they choose not to.

Sowda holds her baby. She has been severely affected by the drought in Kenya. "The drought has affected the lives of many people... we have lost almost all our livestock which was the backbone of every community in this area". Photo: Khaidjah Fara/Oxfam

Hunger crisis in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia

28 million people are fighting for their lives in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia in an acute hunger crisis. Warning bells have been ringing for months, but the response has been poor. Read more about the situation here.

It is overwhelming. It can also seem like a very complex situation - which it is. So Oxfam wants to provide some answers to questions that may arise.

What has brought East Africa to the brink of starvation?

Droughts and floods linked to climate change have destroyed crops and killed livestock. Russia's war against Ukraine has contributed to increased food prices. The global inequality crisis makes those already living in poverty even more vulnerable.

The crisis is the result of a deeply broken system: a world that chooses to prioritize power and money for a small minority while billions of us struggle to survive.

The wealth of billionaires continues to grow and fossil fuel companies are making record profits. At the same time, poverty has increased for the first time in 25 years. People living in areas vulnerable to climate change are more exposed than ever to extreme weather and natural disasters. Read more about the global inequality crisis here.

What do world leaders need to do to avoid a famine in East Africa?

The crisis is grossly underfunded despite warning after warning. Last year, $3 billion was missing, money that the world's rich countries could have collectively contributed. In a world where the assets of dollar billionaires increase by that amount every day, we do not think it is morally justifiable to stand by while people starve.

Ali is a farmer in Somalia. Before the drought he had lots of animals, but they have all died. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam Intermón

World leaders seem to be waiting for an official declaration on hunger before sending funding, but why?

Right now there is not enough political pressure on world leaders to take action and provide funding for East Africa.

This crisis has often been called the forgotten crisis, as it can often be when the crisis is slow. Unfortunately, when many crises happen around the world at the same time, the media tends to focus on the fast-moving ones, which in turn increases the general pressure on politicians to act.

Too often, leaders wait for an official declaration of famine, which in many cases never comes because of the political implications for the government of the country concerned. Or the declaration comes too late due to slow data collection. We know that waiting for elections will cost thousands of lives.

That hunger is an imminent risk for an entire region in 2023 is absurd. The situation is getting worse, all because those with the most power, money and influence are not taking action. With the necessary funding and early action, hunger can be avoided altogether.

If hunger is declared, what does it mean?

A declaration of famine means that famine causes an extreme amount of deaths within the population. However, by the time famine is declared, often half of those estimated to die from the crisis have already died. Here are some figures:

For hunger to be officially declared:
- 1 in 5 households suffer from extreme food shortages
- More than 30% of the population is severely malnourished
- 2 in 10,000 people die from hunger every day.

And therefore, starvation is a failure. How can world leaders wait for this to happen before sending funding?

The people of East Africa cannot control climate change, they cannot control conflict or the greed of billionaires. They can only control how they react to it day by day.

World leaders can and must take action.

This text is inspired by this text from Oxfam Great Britain, written by Alicia, Head of Campaign Engagement.