One person likely to die of hunger every 48 seconds – report

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A young boy cooking in Chebanda village in Tiaty, Baringo County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The effects of drought and hunger in three Eastern African countries continue to worsen, with a recent report revealing that one person is likely to die every 48 seconds from acute hunger.

Oxfam and Save the Children in a joint press release reported that the number of people facing crisis levels of hunger in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has more than doubled since last year, from over 10 million to over 23 million people.

The report titled Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction indicates that entrenched bureaucracies and self-serving political choices continue to curtail a unified global response, despite improved warning systems and efforts by local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

“Today, nearly half a million people across parts of Somalia and Ethiopia are facing famine-like conditions. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are suffering from extreme hunger. Urgent appeals are woefully funded, as other crises, including the war in Ukraine, are worsening the region’s escalating hunger crisis,” read the press release.

Oxfam noted that Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) projected a likelihood that the October to December 2022 short rains season will also be below average, setting the stage for an unprecedented five-season drought with an estimated four to five million Kenyans needing food assistance.

FEWS NET in the May update said there will be an increase in the severity and scale of food assistance in 2023, and a significant and sustained scale-up of humanitarian assistance will be needed to save lives and livelihoods.

Yvonne Arunga, Save the Children Country Director for Kenya and Madagascar as quoted by Oxfam, said what is happening in Kenya and the Horn of Africa as a whole is truly horrific.

Arunga said as of March, the number of children aged six to 59 months requiring treatment for acute malnutrition in Kenya had increased to 755,000, representing a 15.6 per cent increase from 653,000 in August 2021.

“Kenyan herders have been forced to trek long distances in search of water and pasture, increasing the risk of resource-based conflict and family separation, which in turn heightens the risk of gender-based violence,” said Ms Arunga.

“The clock is ticking and every minute that passes is a minute too close to starvation and possible death of a child,” she added.

Oxfam in Kenya Country Director, Dr John Kitui said the drought will spiral out of control if there is no collective action as a nation and region.

He said the country’s leadership must respond swiftly and invest in food security, diversified livelihood options, and stronger social protection systems to cushion Kenyans who face hunger and starvation in every drought cycle.

“Institutions need to listen to early warning systems and recommendations by local organisations who understand local realities to mitigate future calamities and to foster timely humanitarian responses,” Mr Kitui said.

Gabriella Bucher, Oxfam International Executive Director said world leaders responded woefully despite worsening warning signs over time, leaving millions of people facing calamitous hunger. He said starvation is a political failure.

Ahmed Ibrahim, the network’s convener said the situation keeps deteriorating adding that earlier action would have helped prevent the escalation of the crisis. 

Oxfam and Save the Children are now calling for urgent action to tackle the hunger crisis in Eastern Africa.

They say G7 and Western leaders must immediately inject money to meet the $4.4 billion UN appeal for Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and ensure the funding is flexible enough to be used where it is most.

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