“Hunger is one of the most undignified sufferings of humanity”: Tackling food insecurity in Africa and beyond
Food insecurity is not a new phenomenon. But the recent escalation in severity and geographical spread of chronic hunger is serious cause for alarm.
The hunger crisis is most starkly felt on the African continent, where many regions, notably the Horn of Africa, Sahel and Lake Chad regions, are experiencing the worst food crisis in decades.
Millions of people are facing hunger across Africa—prompting the IFRC to launch Emergency Appeals for hunger crises in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Niger and Angola all within the past year.
Back in May, I met some of those affected whilevisiting drought-affected areas in Marsabit County, Kenya—where levels of malnutrition are among the highest on the continent.
I saw first-hand the level of suffering caused by a severe lack of rainfall over four consecutive seasons, coupled with pre-existing vulnerability in parts of the County. Children, young mothers and the elderly are most affected and facing near depletion of their livelihoods.
Although this hunger crisis is, to a large extent, climate-induced, it is also driven by the effects of widespread locust swarms, disease outbreaks, conflict and insecurity, and economic slowdowns—including those triggered by COVID-19.
Furthermore, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is disrupting the global trade of food, fertilizers and oil products, with prices of agricultural products reaching record highs. Eastern Africa, for instance, gets 90 per cent of its imported wheat from Russia and Ukraine (source: WFP), and the conflict has led to significant shortages. The Ukraine crisis has also diverted both the attention and resources from other crises.
While Ukraine is an extremely worrying crisis, affecting millions, we cannot afford to lose sight of other urgent crises around the world. Not least of which is the rapidly deteriorating food security situation in many parts of Africa. The clock is ticking and soon it may be too late to avert a widespread tragedy.
So the question that should concern us all is: what can we do, as a humanitarian collective, to avoid the tragic history of the early 1980s repeating itself?
We need urgent and massive action to scale up life-saving assistance to millions of people on the verge of collapsing, but also to decisively address the root causes of this crisis through longer term commitments.
The IFRC has an important and unique role to play. With our unparalleled community reach and expertise, our 100+ years of humanitarian experience, our ability to act both locally and globally, and our National Societies’ special status as auxiliaries to public authorities—we can turn this tide. But we need the resources to do so.
Our collective immediate priority is to muster life-saving support, within and outside our IFRC network, for the next six months—paying particular attention to the Horn of Africa, Central Sahel and other hot spots across the continent.
During this emergency phase, we will focus our support on the things we know from experience will make the most difference to affected people’s lives and livelihoods: food assistance, cash programmes and nutrition support.
At the same time, we will develop longer-term programming, together with interested National Societies, to address the root causes of food insecurity. We will build on our previous successes and work in support of governments’ plans and frameworks to restore the resilience of the most impoverished communities, including displaced populations.
Everything we do will be underpinned by solid data and meaningful community engagement to ensure that our response is evidence-based and tailor-made.
Hunger is one of the most undignified sufferings of humanity. To alleviate human suffering, we must rise to this challenge through collective mobilization and action—both in the immediate and long-term.
We simply cannot afford to do too little, too late.
The IFRC network reached 4.8 million people with food assistance and non-food items, combining all humanitarian response operations (Emergency Appeals, DREFs and our COVID-19 response)
More than 20 African National Societies have been implementing food security-related projects as part of their regular programming
33 African National Societies have increased their capacity to deliver cash and voucher assistance
Click here to learn more about the IFRC’s work in food security and livelihoods.
You may also be interested in reading:
'To beat Africa’s hunger crises, start with long-term planning' -opinion piece in Devex by IFRC Regional Director for Africa, Mohammed Omer Mukhier-Abuzein
'Because of hunger, I am here' - photo story from the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine about Angolan refugees fleeing to Namibia due to the drought and resulting lack of food and water
And scroll down to learn more about our active Emergency Appeals for food insecurity in Africa and beyond.
| Press release
Horn of Africa: IFRC Secretary General visits Kenya as worst drought in 40 years looms for millions
Nairobi/Geneva, 6 May 2022—The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Secretary General Jagan Chapagain ends a three-day visit to Kenya, and he is calling for a massive scale-up of humanitarian and long-term assistance to communities affected by the growing hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa.
Speaking at the end of a visit to Marsabit, one of Kenya’s areas that has been hardest hit by the effects of drought, Mr Chapagain said:
“I have seen firsthand the level of suffering caused by drought in Marsabit. There are highly unacceptable levels of malnutrition, a global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 53.6 per cent in this particular ward - one of the highest in Africa. The situation is rapidly deteriorating. We need immediate humanitarian assistance to reach the most vulnerable. We also need long term solutions that address the impact of climate change including investment in resilient livelihoods.”
Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are facing a large-scale, climate-induced, and protracted humanitarian crisis with over 14 million people food insecure and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance including at least 5.5 million children facing acute malnutrition. 6.1 million people in Ethiopia and 4.1 million people in Somalia are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are acutely food insecure, with eastern and northern Kenya’s most arid and semi-arid lands experiencing critical drought conditions. This silent disaster has been overshadowed—and to a significant extent amplified—by the Ukraine crisis.
“It isn’t just food and water that people need here. In the background there are unseen issues such as sexual and gender-based violence, and the profound impacts on mental health. An example given was of women walking over 40 km to reach potable water – what happens on the journey is unthinkable,” added Mr Chapagain.
Dr Asha Mohammed, Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society, who was also in Marsabit, said:
“The fact that people in Marsabit have lost over 70 per cent of their livestock, which is their main source of livelihood, means that it will be a long and slow path to recovery. Our teams are playing a central role in reducing the risks that families are facing. They have provided cash assistance, food assistance and improved water treatment practices, but the need to rehabilitate water systems remains urgent. We call all our partners and stakeholders to support our efforts.”
In response to the hunger and drought situation in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, the IFRC, the Kenya Red Cross, Ethiopia Red Cross and Somali Red Crescent are jointly appealing for 39 million Swiss francs. This funding will allow Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff to assist 1,560,000 people by scaling up their emergency and humanitarian assistance and recovery activities and tackling the root causes of food insecurity.
This strategy is aligned with the IFRC’s Pan African Zero Hunger Initiative that undertakes a holistic approach to food security, integrating specific interventions for rapid nutrition, food security and livelihood support for acute food-insecure households and communities with a long-term strategy working towards zero hunger and sustainable recovery.
“Food is a basic need of the population. We call upon every government in Africa to ensure they have the right policy framework to deal with drought,” said Mr Chapagain.
To request an interview with representatives from the IFRC or Kenya Red Cross, or for more information, please contact:
IFRC - Euloge Ishimwe, +254 731 688 613, [email protected]
Kenya Red Cross - Peter Abwao, +254 711 590911, [email protected]
IFRC – Benoit Carpentier, +41 79 213 2413, [email protected]
Somalia: Hunger crisis 2021-2022
In Somalia, an estimated 4.1 million people are currently in need of food assistance due to the compounding impacts of extended drought, flooding, desert locust infestations, the economic impacts of COVID-19 and conflict. Through this Emergency Appeal, the IFRC is supporting the Somalia Red Crescent Society (SRCS) to provide humanitarian assistance to 560,000 people in Somaliland and Puntland. It willcontribute to the IFRC’s Pan-Africa Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims at lifting the most vulnerable people in Africa from poverty and eradicating dependence on food assistance.
| Press release
Somalia: Three million face starvation and disease, warns IFRC, as it calls for swift action
Nairobi/Geneva, 11 August 2021—The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned that Somalia is on the cusp of a humanitarian catastrophe. One in 4 people face high levels of acute food insecurity and more than 800,000 children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition unless they receive treatment and food assistance immediately.
In addition to food insecurity, Somalia’s humanitarian situation continues to worsen due to multiple threats, including the outbreak of diseases such as Acute WateryDiarrhoea, measles, malaria and COVID-19.
Mohammed Mukhier, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said:
“Somalia is one of the riskiest places on earth to live right now. The country is a catalogue of catastrophes. Climate-related disasters, conflict and COVID-19 have coalesced into a major humanitarian crisis for millions of people. We can’t keep talking about this, we must reduce suffering now.”
Somalia is vulnerable to extreme climatic conditions, including repeated cycles of drought, seasonal floods, and tropical cyclones. The country has also been grappling with the impact of desert locusts. People regularly experience loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, malnutrition, and a scarcity of clean water. Seventy per cent of the country’s population lives in poverty, and 40 per cent is estimated to be living in extreme poverty.
The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to lead to worsening nutrition outcomes among vulnerable groups—including poor households in urban areas and internally displaced people, many of whom live in crowded, unhygienic conditions and makeshifts shelters in the context of increasing food prices and reduced employment and income-earning opportunities.
The IFRC, Somali Red Crescent Society and other partners continue to provide support to vulnerable communities. However, the resources are unable to keep pace with needs.
Mukhier said: “We are doing our best to contribute to the reduction of hunger and disease. But, frankly speaking, available assistance remains a drop in the ocean, given the scale of suffering.”
To address some of the many unmet needs, the IFRC isseeking8.7 million Swiss francs to support the Somali Red Crescent Society to deliver humanitarian assistance to 563,808 people in Somaliland and Puntland over 18 months. This emergency appeal will enable the IFRC and the Somali Red Crescent Society to step up the response operation with a focus on livelihood and basic needs support, health and nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, protection, gender and inclusion, as well as helping communities to prepare for other disasters.
On 15 May 2021, the IFRC released 451,800 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to help the Somali Red Crescent Society provide more than 120,000 people in Puntland and Somaliland with health and nutrition support. The Somali Red Crescent Society has unparalleled access to remote and hard-to-reach families, including those living on mountains or nomadic communities. Its integrated health care programme, with its network of static and mobile health clinics, is a key provider of health services.
In a country with many nomadic and displaced people, it is challenging to reach communities with consistent health care: mobile clinics are one of the primary strategies to fill those gaps. The Red Crescent mobile teams are uniquely positioned to reach patients in areas that lack vehicle or ambulance services.
For more information, or to request interviews, please contact:
In Nairobi: Euloge Ishimwe, +254 731 688 613, [email protected]
In Geneva: Ann Vaessen, +41 79 405 77 50, [email protected]
Latest photos, videos and B-rolls, on the situation in Somalia, available on this link https://www.ifrcnewsroom.org/
To follow the conversation on social media, use this hashtag: #HungerAndDiseaseReduction
Somali Red Crescent Society