Former heads of DFID and leading aid agencies call on Prime Minister to step up before it’s too late as millions of lives hang in the balance in East Africa

Aisha, Somalia

06 December 2022


Rishi Sunak must act now to help prevent a huge humanitarian catastrophe in East Africa, three former Secretaries of State for International Development and the heads of many of the UK’s leading aid agencies, along with others, have warned in a joint letter to the Prime Minister, published today.

Over 28 million people are facing life threatening food insecurity across East Africa. In drought-stricken Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, it is estimated that one person is dying every 36 seconds from hunger and more than 7 million children are acutely malnourished across the 3 countries.

The letter says: “East Africa is facing a catastrophic hunger crisis caused by one of the worst droughts in living memory. It is looking increasingly likely that a fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the region, leaving millions of families in a desperate situation and facing starvation (...)

“Although a full-scale famine is yet to be officially declared, what we are seeing on the ground is a famine in all but name. Despite the rapidly mounting death toll, the international response is woefully underfunded and the UK has failed to do its bit.”

Despite an announcement of humanitarian aid to Somalia last Friday, the UK has confirmed an allocation of just £156 million this year for East Africa, less than a fifth (18 per cent) of the £861m provided in 2017-8 during the region’s last major hunger crisis which helped to avert a widespread famine.

The letter calls for the UK to step up and show this leadership again before it’s too late.

Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP and former Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“The UK has long had a strong record of leadership in response to acute hunger crises. All of us, across all political parties, have a responsibility to live up to that legacy. There are now millions of people across East Africa who are facing of the worst drought in living memory, and their acute hunger is being made worse by the war in Ukraine. If the Government is serious about saving lives and persuading others to do more, we must lead by example by stepping up support to those in need today.”

Oxfam’s CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah, who recently visited the Somali regions of Sannag and Togdheer, said:

“People I met said the situation was the worst in living memory. Communities have run out of ways to cope and families have been stretched to breaking point. It is incomprehensible that with hunger likely claiming a life in the region every 36 seconds, the UK Government have failed to respond in any meaningful way. The time to act is now.”

Patrick Watt, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, said:

“Millions of people across East Africa are facing a crisis on crisis. Given the growing number of deaths from hunger and starvation, the response to date from the UK Government borders on the grossly negligent. East Africa must not be forgotten. It is past time that Government Ministers lived up to their responsibility and ensure that the UK commits its fair share of the aid needed to address this rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis.”

As well as acting now to save lives now, the letter’s signatories say it is vital that the UK Government acts to stop crises like this from happening again by investing in resilience building approaches to help people to break the cycle.

Christine Allen Director of CAFOD, who visited northern Kenya earlier this year, said:

“The families I met in Kenya were well used to adapting when things get tough, but this
drought has been unprecedented, leaving families who otherwise cope finding themselves in desperate situations. People are doing what they can to support each other, but they need aid urgently.

"The scale of need goes beyond what charities can do. The UK must step up. The Government has cut aid to East Africa to well below than in 2017, yet for many the situations is as bad as it has ever been. This cannot go on, without action now millions face losing their lives."

CARE International’s CEO, Eamon Cassidy, said:

“For too long, the UK Government has done too little to help women and girls across East Africa in this struggle against hunger and poverty. Increased funding would help provide life- saving food and water supplies, enabling girls to stay in school, reduce their exposure to violence and build a better future.

"For months on end, women and girls in East Africa have been fighting to stay alive. They often eat less and eat last and are forced to risk their personal safety simply to survive. Their strength, resolve and ingenuity is beyond question."

Read the letter in full

You can help save lives in East Africa

Donate today