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Situation increasingly acute in drought-stricken East Africa - one person dies every 36 seconds

30 November 2019

Oxfam recently warned that the situation for people in drought-stricken East Africa is rapidly deteriorating. The most vulnerable areas are fast approaching famine. By the end of the year, it is estimated that one person will die of hunger every 36 seconds. This is an alarming increase since May, when one person died of hunger every 48 seconds. Over six million children are facing, or already suffering from, acute malnutrition.

Sowda stands with her daughter in her arms.

Photo: Khadija Farah/Oxfam

Sowda is a mother of five children living in Kenya. She has been severely affected by the drought, and constantly worries about how to feed them all.

"The clock is inexorably ticking towards starvation and more and more people are dying as hunger takes an ever tighter grip. After four seasons of no rainfall, people are losing the battle for survival - their livestock has died, harvests have failed and food prices are rising due to the war in Ukraine. The warning bells have been ringing for months, but the world has yet to wake up to the terrible reality. People are suffering because of climate change, which they have done nothing to cause. The rich countries that have contributed most to the climate crisis have a moral responsibility to protect people from the harm they have caused," said Parvin Ngala, Oxfam's regional director for the Horn of Africa and Central Africa.

Oxfam's latest analysis of available data suggests that people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are dying at a higher rate since May. The analysis also suggests dangerous delays in aid to the millions on the brink of starvation.

Photo: Khadija Farah/Oxfam

Sowda has five children and has been severely affected: "The drought has taken many lives around here. We have lost almost all the livestock which is the backbone of the whole community. Since the drought started, I have lost 30 out of 50 animals. The situation has caused alarming food shortages, water shortages, death and disease among both people and animals."


The population of Somalia is enduring the worst hunger crisis in living memory and the number of people living in famine-like conditions is already higher than during the 2011 famine, when more than a quarter of a million people died. Nearly one in six people in Somalia now face extreme hunger.

Large parts of the region have been affected by four failed rainy seasons, and a fifth is likely imminent. Climate change is making it increasingly difficult to grow crops and has forced pastoralists to abandon their traditional way of life. The crisis has been exacerbated in many places by conflicts, covid-19 and by rising food prices, partly due to the war in Ukraine but also to local food shortages.

The people of South Sudan are also severely affected by a hunger crisis, caused by floods and conflict, but due to lack of available data, it was not possible to include South Sudan in the analysis.

The UN appeal for aid to Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan is currently more than $3 billion short.