East Africa is currently experiencing one of the most serious humanitarian disasters for decades, with over 20 million people at risk of starvation. A complicated set of circumstances, including back-to-back droughts and protracted conflict, have left millions experiencing hunger across the region.
The UK Government has done much to bring the crisis to international attention, pledging funds and committing to hold a conference to address the situation in Somalia in May. The British public have also responded in typically generous fashion, so far raising £30 million and counting. The UK has taken a commendable lead; as the Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel MP, said when announcing the initial package of UK support for the region: “The world faces a series of unprecedented humanitarian crises and the real threat of famine in four countries. These crises are being driven by conflict and drought and we must respond accordingly”.
The last time Somalia experienced famine, in 2011, a quarter of a million people died. ActionAid is particularly active in the autonomous region known as Somaliland, where the drought and associated food shortages in Somaliland are causing severe problems. 80 per cent of livestock has already been wiped out in the hardest hit areas; girls are increasingly dropping out of school in order to assist with the search for food and water; and malnutrition; and miscarriage and deaths among women in labour are increasing.
As the risk of famine looms again, Sadia Abdi Alin, the Country Director of ActionAid Somaliland, had this to say about what she has seen in the communities she works in:
“It is only when you go into the communities you realise the depth and devastation of drought on people's lives, and impact it has on women and girls in particular. I met a woman, a widow and a mother of five children, who has lost all her animals - hundreds of them. After travelling for months looking for water, she simply had no energy left. She hadn't eaten for days when ActionAid found her and helped her.
Hundreds of thousands of animals have died. With their deaths, people have lost their livelihoods - but also animals for Somalis are not just animals, they are our identity. And so when you lose your animals, your confidence, your pride, your worth, goes out of the window. That’s the kind of experience women are feeling here right now.
People are really living in despair, and the window of opportunity is small. Either we will respond immediately, or we will watch people die”.
ActionAid is working to distribute food, including dates, sugar, flour and rice, and water in areas where communities are badly affected. We are prioritising women (especially pregnant and lactating mothers), children and elderly people, because they are the hardest hit groups.
We know that women are often most at risk in times of crisis; and we also know that it is women who know who in a community is most in need of help. That’s why ActionAid has been working with local women's groups to spearhead the response and ensure women are in leadership positions. But we need to do more, and we need to do it now.
ActionAid is raising money for the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal – 13 aid agencies working together at times of disasters and emergencies. Together, they are delivering life-saving assistance in all of the affected countries.
Up to £5 million of donations from the public will be matched pound for pound by the Department for International Development. As the Secretary of State says:
“In times of crisis, the world looks to Britain not just for our work on the ground, but also for our leadership internationally. While we step up our support for emergency food, water and lifesaving care to those in need, our message to the world is clear – we must act now to help innocent people who are starving to death.”
Donate to the East Africa Crisis Appeal https://www.actionaid.org.uk/donate/east-africa-crisis