accessibility & help

Exceptional food crisis in Horn of Africa

9 January 2009

A child carrying younger sibling on backJose CendonMillions of people in Kenya and the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, are facing an exceptional humanitarian crisis that requires urgent food assistance.The combined effect of high worldwide food prices and a crippling drought is seriously jeopardising the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of up to 20 million people in both rural and urban communities.

The affected populations are those who already live on the margins of survival due to conflict, displacement and chronic poverty. This crisis, if not responded to, has the potential to develop into famine not seen on such a scale in many years.

Urgent appeal

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an appeal on 11 December 2008 for £65 million for the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, to which the British Red Cross has made a £250,000 donation.

The British Red Cross also launched the Ethiopia Food Crisis Appeal on 12 September 2008, to support the Federation’s response to the ongoing crisis.

The Red Cross operation in Ethiopia has so far carried out four food distributions, reaching more than 75,000 people in some of the worst affected communities in Damot Pulasa and Damot Galle. In addition, beans and sweet potato cuttings were distributed to 8,500 farmers and the Ethiopian government agricultural office is providing technical support. The seeds were provided for women headed households and the poorest farmers.

The sweet potato cuttings have grown well, and those who received them have been able to take new cuttings, from the plants which grew from the original cuttings, and plant out a greater area. Provided that funds are available, provision of livestock is planned for people with poor or no access to farmland. The Red Cross has also trained more than 230 people in water and sanitation activities.

Complex situation

Pete Garratt, British Red Cross relief operations manager, said: “Communities in the affected region have been worn down by successive droughts, years of poverty and conflict, but the situation now is even more complex than usual. There is an increased and increasing vulnerability brought about by the current instability in global markets and the major increase in cost of food cereals.

“Even in adequate food production years, these countries import cereals to meet the needs of the population. The current high cost of food internationally exacerbates an already extreme situation. This major humanitarian crisis is not going away any time soon. It needs sustained emergency food assistance combined with longer term support to help people recover their livelihoods and access to food.”

Red Cross support

Over the next five years, the Federation appeal will support 2.2 million vulnerable people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The response will include delivering immediate relief through food, emergency health, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. Longer-term action will involve helping people recover their livelihoods and reducing their vulnerability to future food crises.

British Red Cross delegate Greg Jack is currently working with the Federation in Ethiopia, he said: “We urgently need funds to continue making a difference to the lives of people in an extremely desperate situation. With less than £30, we can help save a life. Think about that – for the price of a dinner for two in a restaurant, a child will not go to bed hungry, a mother will deliver a healthy baby and a herder will be able to start providing for himself and his family again.”

Read Greg Jack's delegate diary

More about the Ethiopia food crisis