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British people unaware of famine threatening millions in East Africa, aid agencies warn

20 May 2022


Camp in Jubaland, Somalia, last month, for people displaced by the ongoing drought in the region

Camp in Jubaland, Somalia, last month, for people displaced by the ongoing drought in the region

PARTS of East Africa are facing their worst hunger and water crisis for 40 years, but most people in Britain are not aware of it, new polling suggests.

The crisis in the Horn of Africa is as great a crisis as the famine of 1984, which prompted the Band Aid concert and brought about a global response, but it is now receiving only scant attention from the public and international governments, aid agencies have warned.

Three failed rainy seasons have pushed parts of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia to the brink of famine, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent the price of staple foods soaring, worsening the crisis.

A survey commissioned by Christian Aid found that, while more than 90 per cent of people in Britain were aware of the war in Ukraine, just 23 per cent were aware of the crisis in Africa. Yet seven in ten people said that they were worried about people going hungry as food prices rocketed around the world.

A report published recently by the Global Network Against Food Crises calculated that the number of people experiencing critical levels of hunger rose by 40 million last year alone.

The chief executive of Christian Aid, Patrick Watt, called on the UK Government to give the crisis “proper attention, and take action to prevent a devastating famine. Across the Horn of Africa, up to 20 million people are facing hunger. Droughts have become increasingly severe and frequent, and so this is not a surprise.

“However, the war in Ukraine has turned a bad situation into a dire crisis. With rocketing food and energy costs around the globe, we are seeing people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia facing a crisis like no other.

“While we cannot thank the public enough for their response to humanitarian needs in Ukraine, the fact that so few people in Britain are aware of the crisis in the Horn of Africa is deeply concerning.

“We must sound the alarm and give hope to people in need in the region. The cost of living crisis is global and demands urgent action from the Government and the development sector.”

In Somalia, 350,000 children below the age of five are said to be at risk of dying of malnutrition and disease, and millions of people are facing hunger, after three failed rainy seasons; and another is looming (News, 6 May). The UN estimates that there are pockets of famine in the country already, and that more than one million people are already on the edge of survival.

An estimated 7.2 million Ethiopians are already not getting enough to eat, and half a million Kenyans are close to what the UN World Food Programme has described as “catastrophic levels of hunger and malnutrition”.

The Leprosy Mission’s chief executive, Peter Waddup, said that the world was in danger of overlooking what was happening. The charity works in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, which has been at the centre of clashes between Tigrayan and government forces.

“Ethiopia is in the grip of its worst drought in decades,” he said. “Sadly, it comes as no surprise to us that it is people affected by leprosy that are plunged into food crisis and severe malnutrition first.

“People affected by leprosy were physically unable to escape the violent attacks of recent months. They were also without the financial means to flee the region. These are people not privileged enough to become refugees or internally displaced people.

“Many of the families we work with have lost loved ones and everything they own, including livestock and crops. The stories we are hearing from our team on the ground in Amhara on a daily basis are utterly devastating.”

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