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Explainer: Drought and hunger in Somalia, Ethiopia and Horn of Africa

Millions of people in the Horn of Africa are facing food shortages due to the worst drought in 40 years and rising global food costs

Aker Deng from South Sudan with her children Chudi (6) and Monday (4) Photo: Achuoth Deng/Trócaire Aker Deng from South Sudan with her children Chudi (6) and Monday (4) Photo: Achuoth Deng/Trócaire

The Horn of Africa is on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of people are facing food insecurity as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing their worst drought in over 40 years. One person is now thought to be dying in the region every 36 seconds. The situation has gotten so catastrophic that for the first time since 2011, famine is likely to be declared in parts of Somalia, with other areas in the horn of Africa also at risk. 

Here’s all you need to know about the situation:

What is happening? 

Somalia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia and Kenya, are in the grip of the worst drought in more than 40 years, which has wiped out livestock and crops.  

Four consecutive droughts, the ripple effects of the Ukraine war, climate change and Covid-19 have created the direst of conditions in the region. A fifth consecutive season of abnormal rainfall levels is now predicted, the war in Ukraine continues, the world is getting warmer and the pandemic has not gone away.   

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of people at risk of starvation across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia had increased to 22 million. In Somalia alone, the number of people facing crisis hunger levels is 7.8 million, or around half the population, while around one million people have fled their homes in a desperate search for food and water. One-in-three children is facing chronic malnutrition.   

How many people are at risk of famine and death? 

In June, the World Bank said an estimated 66.4 million people in the Horn of Africa region – including 10 million children – were forecast to experience food stress or a food crisis, emergency, or famine by July. 

According to the WFP, the number of people at risk of starvation has increased to 22 million. 

In Ethiopia, an estimated 20.4 million people need food support. 

In Somalia, nearly half of the population of 15 million is “seriously hungry” and faces a “very real risk of famine in the coming months” if current conditions stay the same, the WFP said. 


In Kenya, half a million people are on the brink of a hunger crisis, and the number of Kenyans in need of assistance has risen more than fourfold in two years, the WFP said.  

Who has said what? 

 “The WHO is very concerned about this situation. It does lead to many families taking desperate measures to survive,” said Carla Drysdale, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“There is still no end in sight to this drought crisis, so we must get the resources needed to save lives and stop people plunging into catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation,” WFP executive director David Beasley said. 

“We know from past experience that acting early to avert a humanitarian catastrophe is vital, yet our ability to launch the response has been limited due to a lack of funding to date,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for East Africa. 

Martin Griffiths, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that famine was at the door”. “This is, in those often-used words, and no more true than here, a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said. 

How has the Ukraine war affected the Horn of Africa?  

The Horn of Africa relies on Russia and Ukraine for more than 90 per cent of its wheat supplies. The knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine, such as supply shortages and rising fuel costs, have spiked food prices. This is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people, especially subsistence farmers and people in conflict-affected areas. Families can no longer afford even basic items. In June, the average cost for a household to meet its basic food needs was at its highest in five years.  

What can be done to help? 

Trócaire is working hard to build public awareness and to pressure the Irish government and other governments to increase overseas development assistance, both for this crisis and for long-term investment in building resilience.   

We will therefore continue to press the Irish Government to honour its commitment to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development assistance by 2030. This is a mere 7c in every €100 of income earned.    

You can donate to Trócaire’s emergency appeal for the Horn of Africa below

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