Zainab Mohammed, 38 a Somali refugee mother of five, who fled starvation in her homeland Somalia, to Dadaab camp in Kenya stares at her kitchen at Iftar, the time for breaking fast during Ramadan, hoping somehow, she will get food to feed her children. But there is nothing. They may go to sleep again with hungry stomachs. Zainab is among more than 1 million Somalis who have fled their homes in search of help while an estimated 43,000 people died last year alone as a result of the ongoing drought. 

"It's difficult to watch your children starve. We have not taken anything from Sahur, the meal consumed before fasting begins at dawn. This Ramadan makes me sad, but I hope that help will come," she says. The Islamic holy month, during which the Muslim faithful go without eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset , has been hard for Zainab’s family, who huddle under a shelter made of branches, cardboard boxes, and a torn mosquito net and clothes.

Millions of Somali refugees are facing homelessness, hunger, poverty, and an uncertain future this Ramadan. Living in abject poverty, refugees plead to donors not to forget them during this fasting month. Whilst Muslims around the world mark sundown during Ramadan with a variety of feasts after fasting all day, at Dadaab, that kind of nighttime celebration is unthinkable for most Somalis who are enduring the worst drought following five consecutive below average rainy seasons.

Aid agencies are struggling to manage the new arrivals fleeing ongoing insecurity in Somalia and the unrelenting drought who show up at the gates of the camp each day. They started arriving at 200, then 500, then 1,000 people a day. But now, that number has almost tripled. We’ve had almost 40,000 new arrivals come in between January to March 2023. Rising food prices are already affecting how Muslims are breaking their fasts, and with depleting land and energy resources and the effects of climate change, this is likely to get worse in the future.

Sally Anyanga, IRC East Africa Regional Communication officer said, 

“For many people around the world, Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and remembering those that are less fortunate and hungry. We must ensure that people always have enough to eat, especially at the end of a fast when people need to replenish themselves. Sadly, many Muslims around the world are facing drought and starvation. In Somalia, more than 8.3 million people – half its population – are already facing acute food insecurity. We need to invest in livelihoods, resilience, infrastructure development, climate adaptation and durable solutions to break the cycle of chronic and recurrent humanitarian crises and ensure that those affected can adapt and thrive.”

The International Rescue Committee is working across the region to provide nutrition, health, water and sanitation, women’s protection and empowerment and economic development services. With hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya based at the camps and others being forced to move in search of survival, vulnerable women and girls have little to no access to critical health facilities, protection, and support services – at the very time they need them the most.

The UN must re-energize its High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine, prioritizing countries at highest risk, which includes Somalia. The task force's membership should be expanded to include international financial institutions, local and international NGOs, leading and emerging donors, and engage closely with affected states and populations each year. The task force should focus on unlocking the political will to respond to a famine risk, mobilizing investments at scale to respond to early warning systems, and coordinating collective action across the international community. In addition to coordinating the global response, the task force should mobilize a donor pledging conference on famine risk.

The IRC has been operational in Somalia since 1981, where it currently supports communities in Galmudug, Southwest, and Puntland states, as well as in the Banadir (Mogadishu) region. Since March 2022, IRC has scaled up its emergency response activities to 10 Districts in 4 States to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, and we are expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.

The IRC has focused its support on the following sectors: health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), economic recovery and development (ERD), women’s protection and empowerment. As of December 2022, we have reached almost half a million drought affected people in Somalia. 

East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programs globally, with operations in Somalia for over 40 years, Kenya for 30 years and Ethiopia for 20 years. Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.