• IRC teams report that people have already started dying of hunger in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya

  • 20 million will go hungry across the region by September - with at least 3 million facing emergency and catastrophic levels of hunger, risking death

  • A famine is looming whilst the UK government’s funding to support the region drops to a fifth than it was in 2016

With a catastrophic famine looming on the horizon across East Africa, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released its first ever Crisis Alert to its annual Emergency Watchlist today, highlighting that over 3 million people could die without urgent international funding, amidst significant decrease in UK Aid funding. 

In 2016 when famine threatened East Africa, the UK Government provided fast and significant funding, galvanising the global donor response. Today UK Aid funding to the region stands at just one fifth of the levels provided in 2016. Yesterday the US announced an additional $1.2 billion for the East Africa response providing much needed donor leadership. 

It is now vital that the UK Government follows the US lead and increases assistance to the region and encourages other donors to do the same. Once fulfilled, US funding would bring funding levels on par with the 2017 drought and fund the humanitarian response to the tune of nearly 40%. But this year’s drought is far more severe. Twice the number of people across the region are going hungry. A coordinated and sustained donor response is required to save lives.

Once famine is declared, it will be too late.

For funding to be effective it must reach those able to urgently respond and scale up activities. International donors should ensure they have the agreements in place to fund frontline agencies, including national and international NGOs. While existing UK Aid funding to the World Bank and other international organisations will have a role to play, particularly building long term resilience, it is vital that funding for emergency life saving support is urgently released. . 

IRC’s annual Watchlist identifies the top countries most at risk of deteriorating from a humanitarian perspective over the course of the year. IRC is issuing a Crisis Alert in light of the fallout from the war in Ukraine, which - combined with the increasingly detrimental impact of climate change, conflict and COVID-19 - has driven East Africa into a predictable crisis dangerously neglected by the international community and emblematic of the global “System Failure” highlighted in this year’s Watchlist. 

After four consecutive failed rains, hunger in the region is worsening week by week, outstripping the limited funds available. Since the start of the year, the number of people going hungry in Somalia due to drought has nearly doubled.The number of people in Kenya on the brink of famine conditions has tripled. In just one of IRC’s nutrition clinics in Mogadishu, from April to May, the IRC has seen a 265% increase in admissions for children under 5 suffering from severe malnutrition. IRC teams on the ground report that people have already started dying from starvation and the window to prevent mass deaths is rapidly closing.

Despite the vow to “never again,” allow a famine of disastrous proportions to take place, the number of people facing extreme hunger worldwide has reached a new global high - and with a fifth failed rain on the horizon, the drought in the region is now the longest-running in the region in decades. During the peak of the 2011 famine, which affected as many as 14 million people, 30,000 people were dying each month, a total of at least 260,000 deaths. Adjusting for population, that would be on par with 6.5 million deaths in the United States, including more than 3 million children under 5 years old - the equivalent of more than six COVID-19 pandemics.

Against this dire backdrop, East Africa has struggled to attract the attention and funding it desperately requires. While billions of dollars of aid have been made available for the response in Ukraine, the international community has failed to respond to its global fallout, including skyrocketing food and fuel prices. East Africa has been hit particularly hard, importing 90% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine alone. The humanitarian response plan for the region will be barely funded at less than 40%. After just over three months, the $1.9 billion appeal for the humanitarian response in Ukraine was 85% funded - a demonstration of the capacity for resource mobilisation when the political will exists.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said:

“There is nothing natural about famines in the 21st century. While a complex set of factors are driving extreme hunger, the slide into famine and mass death is man-made, driven by international inaction. This crisis was predictable and preventable. It has been unfolding over two years of repeated warnings and worsening hunger. What we are witnessing is an unnatural disaster of catastrophic proportions.

“Every day of inaction is a matter of life or death. The crisis engulfing East Africa is emblematic of the failure of the international system: failure of prevention, failure of response and failure of leadership. 

“Severe underfunding of humanitarian responses is depriving millions of the assistance they need to survive. While famine alarm bells are ringing, donors have been looking in the rear-view mirror, waiting for data collection and death rates to confirm what IRC is already seeing on the ground. In 2016 the UK Government set the bar high for donor leadership and famine was averted. Today it needs to act again in alliance with the US. Donors need to be looking ahead through the windshield: responding now, with a ‘no regrets’ approach, before it's too late.”


  1. Activate the humanitarian system - A full scale up of the humanitarian response is required to mitigate famine in East Africa. The response should seek to apply lessons from previous efforts to avert famine with rapid investment in proven approaches including cash assistance to meet the needs of food-insecure communities.
  2. Adopt a “no regrets” approach to funding. Donors should fully fund the drought response, and deliver it to the frontline.
  3. Mobilise resources for humanitarian access negotiations - Take steps to mitigate the impact of conflict on humanitarian access and ensure aid is able to reach those most in need. 
  4. Address global trade challenges stemming from the war in Ukraine - Pursue all avenues to ease global export restrictions and to restart exports from Ukraine, including ending the blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to relieve global grain shortages.