Mon, 11 December 2023

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By Christina Georgaki
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Liz Truss must urgently address hunger crisis in East Africa to prevent catastrophe


3 min read

Allow me to speak plainly. Across East Africa over 50 million people are currently facing starvation. Every day, children are dying from malnutrition caused by drought and conflict. Time is running out.

Today CARE International UK is joining Action Against Hunger and other international aid agencies, as well as diaspora and faith groups to urge Prime Minister Liz Truss to intervene and prevent a catastrophe.

Against the backdrop of Big Ben in Parliament Square, activists and supporters will set off alarm clocks to signal that urgent action is needed now.

When households lack sufficient food, women and girls eat less and eat last. Research by CARE International UK found that 150m more women than men experienced hunger in 2021. The disparity is growing too – in 2021, the gap was more than 8 times higher than in 2018.

To deliver for women and girls across the world, aid funding must be restored to 0.7 per cent by 2024 at the latest

Drought has also been shown to result in additional risks for women and girls, especially in rural areas. Child marriage and female genital mutilation are likely to rise. More women will need to access gender-based violence services.

Somalia now faces a fifth consecutive failed rainy season. Over one million people have been displaced due to drought and parts of the country are now on the brink of famine. 420,000 children in the country are currently at risk of dropping out of school. The population of one isolated village is accessing less than half a litre of clean water per person per day to cover their water needs, from drinking, to making food and cleaning, just to stay alive.  

Unlike some emergencies caused by natural sudden disasters or the declaration of war, this threat in East Africa has grown exponentially, over time. And, because of its gradual onset nature, it is harder to garner the attention of governments, donors and the media. Without a single major event to catalyse action, the global response has been slow, inadequate and ineffectual.

The opportunity to prevent a humanitarian disaster passed almost unnoticed months ago. It’s already too late for millions of people who are already suffering. The outlook in the coming months is even bleaker. Each day of delay increases the human cost. On a practical level, the scale and cost of the response required to meet basic humanitarian needs is rising too.

This is a plea to the UK government to show global leadership in the face of the East Africa crisis and to increase its humanitarian aid for the region.

The British government’s support to Ukraine has and will continue to require leadership and resources. However, it would be devastating if this comes at the cost of reduced support to those facing starvation in other parts of the world and if war in Ukraine is used as an excuse for inaction on a humanitarian disaster elsewhere. Working with allies and the UN, the UK government also has a key role to play in supporting the resolution of conflicts in the region that exacerbate the hunger crisis.

The Foreign Office’s Women and Girls Strategy is due out by the end of the year and will show how the government aims to deliver coordinated action to promote gender equality around the world. This is critical and can go some way to the government regaining global leadership in this area. The strategy will need sufficient support. To deliver for women and girls across the world, aid funding must be restored to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income by 2024 at the latest.

Meanwhile, the alarm bells are ringing outside Westminster. The world has been otherwise engaged but it’s time for solidarity and action to address the devastating drought in East Africa.


Helen Pankhurst, senior adviser on gender equality to CARE International UK.

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