accessibility & help

East Africa facing hunger

Food shortages are hard to contemplate: the human suffering is intense, and news footage can be difficult to watch. This edition of Newsthink provides thoughtful activities for approaching the current crises in East Africa and Yemen. Young people can discuss the effect of images of hunger. Groups get an opportunity to think about the choices people have when food goes short, developing their understanding of the crises.

Suggested age range: 14–19
Curriculum links: Citizenship, Geography



In March 2017, the Disasters Emergency Committee launched the East Africa Crisis Appeal to help 16 million people at risk of starvation and in urgent need of food, water and medical treatment. People in the UK contributed £50 million to the appeal within the first few weeks, and more funds are needed.

Start by asking young people what they understand by famine and drought (the most extreme cases of food or water shortages). Have they heard that East Africa is at risk of famine? Invite responses:

  • What do young people know about the crisis? How did they find out about it? What was their immediate reaction?
  • What do they know about the food shortages in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya? Would they like to know more?
  • Can they remember any photos or videos of the people in the countries? How do the images make them feel?

After discussion, show the photo gallery. These are all pictures from Somalia and Kenya that will be used in the media to raise awareness of the crises. The notes on the slides provide some information on each photo. Ask young people:

  • Which photo do they find most moving? Which do they want to know more about?
  • Which do they consider typical of scenes of food shortage? Which are not so typical?
  • What words describe how the people in the photos might feel – positive, despairing, shocked, determined?

Ask young people to imagine themselves in the situation of the people in the photos:

  • Would they want their photo shared across the world or not?
  • What else would they want people in other countries to know about their situation?
  • Do they simply want help from others, or the means to help themselves?

Use the activity to discover more about young people’s attitudes to, and knowledge of, the current crises and food shortages generally. Make notes of what will help focus current explorations, or what seems important to follow up on later.

Background realities

The following sentences have been split in two and mixed up. Invite young people to work in groups to match them up.

  1. Yemen imports over 90 per cent of its
  2. A drought doesn’t always mean disaster, as
  3. One of the main causes of recent food shortages is
  4. As well as food, emergency air drops often contain

  1. seeds and tools so people can grow food for themselves next season.
  2. conflict, as people can no longer access their land to grow food.
  3. food, so it is vulnerable if conflict stops food entering the country.
  4. communities have developed ways to cope with a lack of rainfall.

Key: 1c; 2d; 3b; 4a.

Once the sentences have been matched correctly, ask the groups to think about which ones they would like to know more about. They can think of some questions they would like answered about the sentences. Review the young people’s choice of sentences and their list of questions. Where would they go to for answers to these questions? How difficult would it be to find reliable answers?

End the activity by reflecting on the difference that humanitarian help can make to people at risk of famine. In the case of emergency air drops, how might people feel when they receive not only food but also seeds and tools to change their situation?

People’s choices

Food and water shortages require people to make hard decisions involving major change or loss. Use the following scenarios to explore some of the choices people have. Split young people into small groups, each working on one or more of the scenarios. After discussion, come together to share and compare thoughts.

  • Your animals are your livelihood: you depend on them for milk, food and wool for trading. Food shortages mean it is getting harder to keep the animals healthy. Do you sell the animals to raise money for your family? If you delay the decision, the animals will get sick and it will be hard to sell them. If you sell them now, you will have no income once the money runs out. 
  • You haven’t had a regular supply of food for months. The price of food in the local market keeps going up. Your family is always hungry. You have some tools and some seeds you could sell. Do you sell them? That is a temporary solution, but after that you have nothing left.
  • You have heard that a charity will be providing food to those in need. But the place you have heard about is many days’ walk away. Do you and your family take that journey? Some family members are already very weak. You are not sure whether the information you have is accurate.
  • You run a small local food shop. Normally business is OK. But your customers have recently lost many of their animals and cannot afford food. They ask to take food now and pay you back when they have enough money. Do you give them some of your stock, knowing that they may not be able to pay you back for a long time?

In each scenario, try to identify some of the factors that make the decisions difficult. How many of the difficulties are due to lack of knowledge about the future, for example how long the food shortage will last? What information would make the decision easier?

One way to define an emergency is a time when your existing resources are not enough – you need help from outside. Discuss the outside help that might be available to the people in these scenarios. Help could include supplies of emergency food, clean water and even cash for communities to continue buying and selling.

One form of help appears in the photo below, showing clean water filling an “onion tank ” in the district of Matabaan, Somalia. The tank can hold 5,000 litres of water pumped from underground:

Clean water splashes into an onion tank installed by the ICRC in the district of Matabaan central Somalia© Info

How would young people describe the atmosphere and mood around the water tank? What would the group like to know about the difference that water and other supplies makes? You could end the activity with a discussion of how the scenarios above would change with the arrival of this kind of help.


This resource was written by P J White of Alt62 and published in April 2017.


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