In Somalia, 110 people died in two days at the start of March as a result of the ongoing drought, according to the Somali Prime Minister. These deaths should have been entirely preventable. Droughts don’t kill people, droughts don’t have to become a famine or a crisis. What kills people in a drought is a lack of food or water. We can’t make it rain, we can’t change the weather, but we can stop people going hungry and thirsty. It is simply a matter of political will, resources and funding. Today, that will seems to be lacking. It risks condemning thousands to a slow, painful, unnecessary death in a catastrophic famine.
Repeating mistakes from famine in Somalia six years ago
Six years ago, famine gripped Somalia. The famine came as no surprise. Agencies on the ground had been warning for months about the severity of the situation.
Unbelievably, today we are at risk of repeating exactly the same mistake once again. And this time the scale of the disaster is even more daunting.
But by the time the world paid attention to the calls for help, famine was already devastating the region. The aid that arrived came too late to save thousands of lives. In total, the famine led to the deaths of an estimated 250,000 people.
Unbelievably, today we are at risk of repeating exactly the same mistake once again. And this time the scale of the disaster is even more daunting. There are now 20 million people across East Africa facing hunger in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia.
In South Sudan a famine has already been declared. Both Somalia and Kenya have announced national emergencies, and across East Africa thousands of children are malnourished.
Famine response is underfunded and inadequate
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN has called on the world to act now before it is too late. The UN appeal for the region is massively underfunded.
ActionAid staff on the ground are doing what they can but lack the money to make things happen at the scale they need. The world knows this is happening, presidents and prime ministers have been told. Some have released funding, sometimes substantial amounts, sometimes a token gesture. Some have done nothing.
Deaths of children are preventable if we act now
Every day the world waits, every delay in committing and delivering resources has an impact, an impact that will be measured in suffering, in hunger, even in deaths. Deaths of children, of mothers, of grandparents. Deaths that we can prevent.
In Somaliland (a region of Somalia), Irfah Mohammed, 30, is finding it difficult to breastfeed her one-month-old baby girl Nima because she does not have enough food herself – her body is weak and exhausted.
Irfah told us:
"We had fifty camels but all our camels died. We cried when the camels died – they are our responsibility – they belonged to us and they died. It was very hard.”
"My husband is out with the rest of the livestock looking for food and water. I am scared our children will die next. They are getting weaker."
For people who are already hungry, immediate action to provide aid will not just keep them alive but can prevent serious health problems developing in the long term. For people who are currently at risk, early action can help them cope now, protect their livelihoods and reduce the need for emergency aid in the future.
Women and girls are especially at risk during an emergency
Inevitably, women and girls are likely to bear the brunt of the emergency. They are trying to survive and care for their children whilst at risk of increased sexual violence and exploitation. Women have to travel ever further distances away from the protection of their communities in search of water, meaning they can expose themselves to increased risk of sexual attacks. Our response to this crisis must respond to these threats too.
We had fifty camels but all our camels died. We cried when the camels died.... I am scared our children will die next. They are getting weaker."
We must not wait for the appearance of shocking television images of emaciated children before anything is done. To do so would show that the world has learned nothing from the famine six years ago and a string of other disasters. We know what is happening now, we know what can happen, we know how to stop it. Why would anyone not act now?
How to help people facing the food crisis in East Africa
ActionAid is distributing food and water, but the situation is critical.
Please donate now to our East Africa food crisis appeal, to help us reach even more vulnerable families with life-saving essentials.
Photos: Ashley Hamer/ActionAid.