‘An invisible crisis’: Seven million people at risk of starvation in East Africa

More than seven million people across six countries in East Africa are on the brink of starvation. And if the world does not act now, thousands of children could die, World Vision has warned.

World Vision Australia CEO Daniel Wordsworth said it was imperative the world acted now to avert famine.

“Millions of children are being pushed to the brink of starvation, as they face a deadly cocktail of conflict, climate change and the crushing aftershocks of COVID-19,” Mr Wordsworth said. “I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact of malnutrition in many places we work. It robs children of their childhood, denying them the opportunity to achieve their potential.”

World Vision says around 108,000 people in East Africa are already living in catastrophic famine conditions, marked by critical malnutrition, starvation, destitution and death, while more than seven million are just one step away from famine. And up to 26 million require urgent action to stop them sliding into that same situation.

“It is not too late to avert a catastrophe, but if we don't act quickly and decisively, it will easily become one,” Mr Wordsworth said. “We are marshalling resources to support vulnerable communities across East Africa, to avert the catastrophic effects of hunger, starvation and loss of livelihoods particularly on children.

“But let me be direct: there is no place or excuse for famine in the 21st century. We have the resources and technology to feed the world. The fact we have reached this point shows there has been a clear and catastrophic moral failure by national authorities and the international community. A generation of girls and boys needs us to bring hope. Children of the world are looking to us to act,” Mr Wordsworth said.

East Africa has endured intense, widespread plagues of desert locusts since late 2019, resulting in loss of pasture and crops. During the second half of 2020, large-scale floods destroyed the ready-to-harvest crops of more than four million people across the region. And the region is gripped by protracted armed conflict in several countries, including the new conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, which has dramatically worsened the food situation.

“A combination of low rainfall, desert locusts, the previous year's floods that destroyed mature crops before the harvest and the effects of COVID-19 have whipped up this critical situation,” said Joseph Kamara, Regional Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Director for World Vision East Africa. “What makes matters worse is that this crisis is largely invisible because hunger is worsening in some of the hardest-to-reach pockets of the region.”

World Vision has declared a multi-country emergency response for Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda and is aiming to reach around 2.4 million people, including 490,000 children.

The organisation is already responding with food distributions in several countries, but current funding cuts and expected tightening of aid budgets are making this task increasingly harder.

It will need around $AU79million to mobilise and extend the response. The news of a hunger crisis in East Africa comes on top of a World Vision report that more than 19 million people worldwide were at risk of famine, prompting the organisation to call on the Australian Government to adopt a $AU150 million emergency famine-prevention package.

World Vision is already working in the six affected countries in East Africa and currently reaches more than 400,000 children in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia through its sponsorship programme. In 2020, the organisation reached more than 4.7 million children through activities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, and South Sudan.

For more information contact: World Vision Australia Emergencies media advisor Elissa Doherty: 0409 994 433 or elissa.doherty@worldvision.com.au

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