Drought & Hunger in East Africa


Brink of Famine in South Sudan and Hunger Crisis in the Horn of Africa

After three years of civil war, nearly four million people  have been forced to flee their homes. The war has also prevented people from planting their crops and sent the South Sudanese pound into freefall, leaving six million South Sudanese without enough to eat. At the same time, millions of people across Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia are in crisis. If the world does not pay attention, lives will be lost because they do not have enough food to eat—most of them children.

South Sudan

South Sudan is on its fourth year of a brutal civil war that has uprooted millions from their homes. The violence has prevented families from planting their crops for three planting seasons, leaving them with nothing to harvest. At the same time, the cost of basic food staples has skyrocketed while the value of the South Sudanese pound has plummeted. The fighting has also left some areas completely inaccessible to humanitarian organizations to deliver life-saving relief.

In February, famine — a technical term reserved for only the gravest of circumstances when malnutrition and death is exceptionally widespread — was declared in Leer and Mayendit, two counties that have been flashpoints in the war. While famine conditions have subsided, thanks to humanitarian assistance, 45,000 are facing potentially catastrophic food insecurity in Leer, Koch, and Mayendit counties in Unity and Ayod in Jonglei. At the same time, 1.7 million people are living on the brink of famine, as the war has created very fertile ground for the famine to spread.

More on our work in South Sudan in this 60 Minutes Overtime report.

Horn of Africa

After three years of poor or failed rains, crops and livestock have died and food prices are rising, leaving families with few options to feed themselves.

Somalia, which has also been ravaged by two decades of conflict, could slide into famine if the spring rains are poor, people’s purchasing power continues to decline, and humanitarian organizations are not able to reach people in-need. People in northern Somalia are already dying from the drought. Half of Somalia’s population is estimated to need humanitarian assistance, with 3.2 million facing serious food insecurity. Tragically, for many families, it is not the first time they have faced such conditions: drought and a subsequent famine hit Somalia in 2011, killing an estimated 260,000 people. Half of them were children.

Already this year, more than 680,000 Somalis have fled their homes in search of food and water. Most have fled from rural to urban areas of Somalia. Many others are fleeing into refugee camps in Ethiopia.

The influx of Somali refugees is straining already scarce resources in Ethiopia and Kenya, which are also facing their driest period in decades as well as lost livestock and crops and rising food prices. The Government of Kenya has declared the drought a national disaster, with about 2.7 million people in need of food aid. In Ethiopia, still reeling from one of the strongest El Niño on record last year, 7.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.


  • After three years of civil war, 1.7 million people are experiencing near famine conditions in South Sudan.
  • A third year of drought in the region has left millions of people in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia unable to feed themselves, with crops and livestock decimated and food and water prices rising.
  • Humanitarian action as so far prevented Somalia from sliding into famine, but 3.2 million people remain at-risk, particularly if security prevents people from receiving assistance.
  • Many Somalis are crossing into camps in Ethiopia in search of help. Ethiopia also hosts refugees fleeing war and hunger in South Sudan.
  • Kenya declared a national emergency, with 2.7 million people in need of food aid.
  • An estimated 7.8 million Ethiopians require humanitarian assistance.
  • More than a quarter of a million people—half of them children—died of malnutrition and related causes in the famine that hit Somalia in 2011.
  • International Medical Corps is treating malnourished children and providing life-saving medical care and other assistance across South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.


International Medical Corps is providing nutrition, health, and other services in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya and is scaling up to deliver life-saving relief wherever is most needed.

Highlights include:

South Sudan

In South Sudan, International Medical Corps is providing primary health care and treating malnourished children in Panyijar, a county in Unity State not far from the areas where famine was declared that is seeing an influx of people fleeing Leer and Mayendit. This includes two mobile medical units and nutrition services in and around the main town of Nyal as well as teams that travel by canoe to remote islands deep in South Sudan’s swamps to deliver health care and treatment for malnutrition. We are also training local community members in Nyal, on the islands, and in Leer to serve as community health workers who help identify, prevent, and refer cases of malnutrition and other common health issues. We work across five states in South Sudan, including five health facilities and 24 nutrition centers. This includes two stabilization centers, which provide around-the-clock care to severely malnourished with medical complications.


In Somalia, International Medical Corps is scaling up our health and nutrition programs in Mudug, Galgaduud, and Banadir, three regions facing emergency levels of food insecurity. This includes a 54-bed stabilization center in Mudug, which is gives 24-hour care for children with severe malnutrition and medical complications. We are also delivering health care, treating malnourished children, and providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene services in the Middle Shabelle Region. In Galkayo South in the arid Mudug region, our water trucking brings 19,200 people safe drinking water as well as helps them to keep their livestock alive even under harsh drought conditions. We are also running primary health and nutrition programs in displacement camps in Mogadishu, where people are migrating seeking assistance. In addition to a food crisis, Somalia is also facing outbreaks of cholera and measles. We are running cholera treatment facilities across three districts and responding to the measles outbreak in Galkayo by treating cases and supporting vaccination campaigns.


In Ethiopia, International Medical Corps is working in 48 of the worst-affected woredas in 16 zones and four regions, providing water, nutrition, and health support. This includes emergency seed distribution for nearly 15,000 households and livelihoods support for another 1,400 families, and supporting the government to provide outpatient care for moderate to severe malnutrition at more than 1,000 sites. We are also helping run 128 stabilization centers that provide 24-hour care for those suffering from severe malnutrition with medical complications. We are also training more than 25,000 health professionals on how to manage severe and moderate malnutrition.


In Kenya, International Medical Corps is supporting health facilities in arid and semi-arid counties, to provide nutrition interventions for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. We are also training frontline health workers in maternal, infant, and young child feeding practices and helping households establish small gardens so that they have access to healthy, nutritious foods.


We have to act now. Unlike disasters like earthquakes that cannot be predicted, we know the warning signs and symptoms of food crises. We have seen it far too many times before and waited until it was too late for many. Help us save lives in the Horn of Africa by supporting our work in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.


PHOTOS (click the arrow on the right to flip through photos)


Somalia–Drought Response

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For 30 years, International Medical Corps has worked to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease by delivering vital health care services that focus on training, helping devastated populations return to self-reliance.