Horn of Africa drought: Ireland ‘should lead’ aid mobilisation

Dóchas chief says 23 million people are at risk with crisis levels of hunger in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya

Irish development and humanitarian organisations are joining forces to urge greater political action to respond to the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 40 years.

At a briefing in Dublin on Tuesday, politicians were told that 23 million people face severe hunger in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya as further delayed rains exacerbate what were already the worst droughts in decades.

One person is likely to be dying from hunger every 48 seconds in the region, about 5.7 million children are acutely malnourished and, in Somalia, 350,000 children could die by the end of the summer, according to recent United Nations predictions.

Jane-Ann McKenna, chief executive of Dóchas, said that Russia’s war in Ukraine had “exacerbated” the crisis given that east Africa imports 90 per cent of its wheat from the region.


“We have been hearing warning signs of this hunger crisis for the last two years. The primary cause of this crisis is drought. We are seeing the effects of the climate crisis happen in real time now where it is going to be the worst drought for 40 years,” she said.

The war in Ukraine has put this crisis at a “tipping point,” she said, given that grain exports have “effectively been shut off” to the region. The crisis has been made worse by the high cost of global food prices and the increased costs of getting aid into the region, she said.

Ms McKenna said Irish aid agencies came out previously to “sound the alarm” about the famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011 when about 250,000 people died but action came “too late.”

“We cannot have a repeat of history. It’s a political failure at a global stage. There is a risk of widespread famine in the region where 23 million people are at risk of extreme hunger,” she said.

The crisis, Ms McKenna said, is exacerbated by the disruption of the global economy and food systems as a result of conflict in Ukraine. East Africa imports 90% of its wheat, a key food for most people, from Ukraine and Russia.

Dóchas hosted the political briefing at which four representatives from Concern Worldwide, GOAL, Oxfam Ireland and Trócaire outlined the reality for the people of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The organisations urged the Irish government to “demonstrate and hold firm leadership at an international level to ensure an immediate and radical mobilisation of aid in the region”.

The UN has estimated that humanitarian funding of US$4.4bn is required to provide life-saving assistance and protection in the region. However, the appeal for aid is “drastically underfunded”, the organisations said.

Ten years ago, despite Irish NGOs sounding the alarm on famine in the Horn of Africa, a delayed international response led to the deaths of over 250,000 people, a large majority of which would have been preventable given the proper funding, they said.

Governments and the international community are again failing to heed calls for action despite clear and repeated warnings over some two years, Ms McKenna said. “The number of people facing crisis levels of hunger in the region has more than doubled to 23 million people since last year.”

“We need political action and leadership”, she said. “We can end this hunger crisis if we act now, and if we act collectively. Ireland, with its own experience and legacy of famine, is uniquely positioned to lead by example and mobilise the international community to respond at speed and scale.”

Ireland, it was noted, has been outspoken at the UN Security Council highlighting the impact of conflict and hunger on the ability of people to produce and access food essential to their survival.

The call for action comes as the East African region has experienced four successive failed rainy seasons with this year’s March-May season predicted to be the driest on record, resulting in an increasing erosion of the livelihoods of communities already living on the brink.

UN humanitarian appeals over extreme weather have on average been only 54% funded over the past five years, the organisations outlined.

The most vulnerable communities are hardest hit by climate related shocks despite being the least responsible, they said. Rich and industrialised countries have contributed around 92 percent of excess historical emissions and 37 percent of current emissions while the collective carbon emissions of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya is 0.1% of the global total.

Conflict is the biggest driver of hunger and limits the ability of the most vulnerable to work their farms and to travel to markets or access life-saving humanitarian assistance, they said.

Minister for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, said the international community needs to prioritise a humanitarian response to the situation.

He said Ireland has provided some €48 million but said “the global response to this unfolding disaster has to speed up”.

“It is essential that we respond to the humanitarian needs of those affected by the rise in food prices and related food insecurity,” he said.  It’s also essential that we address the underlying causes of food insecurity.”

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent