1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

East Africa faces hunger crisis

March 31, 2022

Millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia face starvation due to delayed rains and a lackluster growing season. Aid organizations warn of a catastrophe if urgent action isn't taken.

An emaciated cow lying on the ground in Kenya
Cattle in the East African region are dying in huge numbers due to the droughtImage: Ed Ram/Getty Images

The wind is dry and the heat is punishing in Kapetadie, a remote village in Turkana County in northern Kenya near the border with South Sudan.

Parched earth stretches as far as the eye can see, littered with the carcasses of dead cows, goats and other livestock who have died of thirst and hunger.

"Our animals have died. Goats, cows, camels and donkeys," ward administrator Elijah Musekidor laments.

The village's only water source is not clean, he says. People, along with their animals, who also drink here, run the risk of getting sick and dying.

Only 10% of expected rainfall fell in Turkana in the last six months of 2021.

The vegetation is withered and there's little for the traditional herders living here to graze their animals on.

The surface water is also almost gone  — 80% of water sources in Turkana have dried up, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.

With livestock malnourished and dying, many here have no animals to sell at the market. And with harvests way below normal levels elsewhere in Kenya because of the lack of rain, food prices are skyrocking.

A dried-out animal carcass
Kenya's Turkana County is one of the hardest hit regionsImage: Thelma Mwadzaya/DW

As a result, around two-thirds of Turkana's 900,000 people are facing starvation, Kenya's drought authority says.

The normally arid region has become even dryer as it experiences a years-long drought, says the head of Turkana's water service, Vincent Palor.

"We have not had rain for the last few years, and this is actually exacerbating the situation," he told DW.

To make matters worse, 40% of the county's boreholes that tap into groundwater reservoirs are not functional, a recent survey revealed, due to failure to provide routine maintenance.

Millions at risk of severe hunger

Many communities across East Africa are facing similar fates, with small-scale farmers and herders the hardest hit — and least able to cope.

The United Nations estimates that 13 million people across Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia are suffering severe hunger due to persistent drought, as the region is hit with the driest conditions recorded since 1981.

Aid organizations worry that the situation in East Africa will likely deteriorate further without urgent and scaled-up support.

International aid group Oxfam warned that the hunger crisis could quickly turn into a "catastrophe" if aid fails to reach the most vulnerable.

"The brutal truth is that at the moment, East Africa is not on the global agenda,'' Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher told the AP news agency.

Hundreds of thousands of people in East Africa could die this year due to the hunger crisis, she said.

Hunger forcing Somalis to flee

In Somalia, the drought emergency has intensified, with the number of people affected increasing to about 4.5 million people, up from 3.2 million in December 2021.

Many families in drought-ravaged rural areas are fleeing to major cities in search of food and water.

At the Al-Hidaya camp for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, Halimo Ali tries to console her four-year-old son. 

Her family traveled to the camp, which currently holds more than 800 families, from the south of Somalia.  

"We have lost our cows and goats because of the severe drought," Ali told DW. "We could not get food and water, so we decided to move."

A Somali woman holds her son inside an IDP camp
Halimo Ali says she had to flee the devastating drought in southern SomaliaImage: Mohamed Odowa/DW

Malnourished children

Many of those arriving at the camp are malnourished and sick. 

"These drought-affected people suffer from a lack of enough food while the children also suffer from anemia, measles, and weak bones," community leader and camp chairman Nadifo Hussein said. 

He said that with more people traveling to the capital from drought-hit regions, the camp would soon be unable to help new arrivals. 

"We need lifesaving intervention," he told DW.

Aden Farah, Humanitarian Advisor for Save the Children in Somalia, said about 671,000 people had been displaced internally in the country due to the drought. 

In Somalia's 2011 famine, an estimated 250,000 people died, half of them children.

This time around, some 5 million Somalis already face acute food insecurity.

Makeshifts shelters at the Al-Hidaya IDP camp in Somalia's capital Mogadishu
Drought-stricken Somali families are fleeing to the Al-Hidaya camp for internally displaced personsImage: Mohamed Odowa/DW

Thelma Mwadzaya in Kenya and Mohamed Odowa in Somalia contributed to this article.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine