Darmi Doyo, 50, with her starving cattle in Gomulle, Ethiopia..

All you need to know about the East Africa hunger crisis

If the worst drought in a generation wasn’t making things hard enough, the conflict in Ukraine is causing food prices to skyrocket across East Africa. 50 million are already on the brink of famine. And the worst is yet to come.

Just a few months ago, 23 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia didn’t have enough food to eat. But now 50 million people across East Africa are being pushed towards starvation.

For many, even the most basic nutritious food is further out of reach.

The conflict in Ukraine means food prices are increasing sharply. This all comes on top of years of droughts, ongoing conflict, locust infestations and the economic impacts of Covid-19.

Shocks and pressures are coming from all directions. It’s creating a perfect storm. And the numbers are alarming:

  • 36.1 million people across the Horn of Africa will be affected by severe drought this October.
  • Around 4.9 million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are severely malnourished.
  • 986,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are also severely malnourished.

In Somalia alone, there’s been a 50% increase in malnutrition admissions at our health centres since last year. This is moving from a hunger crisis to a famine.

“In short, the level of international attention is falling woefully short given the level of emergency we are seeing.”

“After all, this is a man-made crisis which requires a man-made response. We must do more to prevent a loss of life on a scale we have never seen before.”

Ahmed Khalif, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Somalia

What happens when the rains don’t fall?

In East Africa, the most severe drought in recent history is putting lives at risk.

Families are being forced to take extreme measures to survive. In Somalia , over 750,000 people have already fled their homes in search of food and water since the start of 2022.

In parts of Ethiopia, it hasn’t rained for four years. For farmers like 50-year-old Darmi, this means her cattle are starving, her crops aren’t growing and she’s struggling to feed her children.

Darmi, 50, at her home in Ethiopia. She can't cultivate her land because of continuing drought.
Darmi, 50, at her home in Ethiopia. She can’t grow crops on her land because of continuing drought. Photo credit: Action Against Hunger/ Peter Caton

How is the conflict in Ukraine increasing global food prices?

Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s top suppliers of wheat and oil.  As their trade becomes more disrupted, these staples are becoming harder to come by.

Now the cost of bread and other essentials is rapidly rising. And it’s hitting the most vulnerable hardest.

Ukraine is a major player in the production of crucial crops like wheat, sunflowers and corn. It’s the world’s fifth largest producer of wheat with 40% destined for Africa and the Middle East.


But because of reduction in exports from Ukraine, wheat prices are skyrocketing in countries across East Africa.

“In Mogadishu, Somalia, we have seen prices of wheat increase from $18 to $27 per sack.

“The price of other alternative staple foods is also increasing or they aren’t available in some markets because of the poor harvests this year.”

Hajir Maalim, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Director in East Africa

Escalating prices aren’t just affecting wheat – they’re also impacting other vital foods like maize and cooking oils. With rising fuel and gas prices, there have also been major increases in the cost of transport, fertilisers and shipping. This is making it a lot more expensive to get people the support they need.

Abdiya and her family in Ethiopia. They have one bag of sorghum to feed themselves every day.

Abdiya and her family in a camp for people fleeing conflict in Ethiopia. They only have one bag of sorghum to feed the whole family every day. Photo credit: Action Against Hunger/ Peter Caton

We must act now to save lives

So what happens now? East Africa is on the brink of catastrophe.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation has warned that food prices could rise by up to 20% as a result of the conflict in Ukraine ­– raising the risk of increased malnutrition both in east Africa and across the globe.

Despite alarm bells ringing for months, the international community has been slow to act. Last year, scientists at the Famine Early Warning System Network warned a never-before-seen drought in east Africa was coming if poor rainfall continued into 2022. Tragically, their prediction is turning out to be true.

A photo of Mumina, a woman who walked 10 miles with her three children to find food and water.

Mumina from Somalia fled her home with her three children and walked for miles in a desperate search for food and water. Photo credit: Action Against Hunger/ Ahmed Issak Hussein

How we’re helping people

We’re working to find local solutions to the looming hunger crisis. We’re here with life-saving food and the tools, skills and knowledge to help people

Here are a few examples of our response so far:

  • In Kenya, we’re providing nutritious food and clean water to the families that need it most
  • In Somalia, we’re supporting health centres by providing vital food and medicines, focusing on animal health so herders can continue to make a living and repairing key local services like waterpoints

Join us and make change happen

Starvation is a political failure. The international community, including the UK, must act now – we can’t wait for famine.

The UK Government must live up to the commitments it made at the G7 and the aid budget needs bolstering to meet the increased demand.

Without intervention, children will fall sick and waste away. The UK Government holds the power to stop this.

The window for early action has now closed, but the UK Government can still prevent widespread famine. Sign our petition to the Prime Minister to demand urgent action.

Write to Rishi Sunak now and urge him to step up.

Please note: This article was first published in June 2022 and updated in October 2022.

Sign to stop famine in its tracks

Send a clear message to the new Prime Minister: stop famine in East Africa.

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A mother and their malnourished child at an Action Against Hunger treatment centre.

Help us save more lives

Families in East Africa face a devastating famine this year. With the worst drought in 40 years and escalating food prices as a result of the war in Ukraine, there’s a looming hunger crisis. Millions of children are at risk of severe hunger.

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