Drought & Hunger in East Africa


Famine in South Sudan, Hunger in the Horn of Africa

After three years of civil war, 100,000 people in South Sudan are experiencing famine and one million more are on the brink of starvation. 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.

The two areas experiencing famine—Leer and Mayendit counties—are both in Unity State, which has been a flashpoint throughout the war. In Leer, our field teams estimate that as many as 70% of the population could be hiding in the bush and river islands—many of them unable to escape because of ongoing instability. At the same time, the area has been completely cut off from receiving humanitarian assistance.

"Lives have already been lost because they haven’t had enough to eat, and the situation worsens with every passing day. We can prevent more people from dying, but we must be able to reach them. And we need to reach them right now," Muhammad Bakhtiar, International Medical Corps’ medical director in South Sudan. "We call on all parties to the conflict to immediately provide humanitarian organizations with safe, unrestricted access to communities in need."

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 face an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe if the spring rains fail. People in northern Somalia are already dying from the drought. 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.

Thousands of Somali families are on the move in search of food and water, with many seeking refuge in camps in Ethiopia. In the next three months, as many as 90,000 Somalis are expected to cross the border into Ethiopia in search of help. Today, eight out of ten children being screened in the refugee camps in the Ethiopian border area of Dolo Ado are malnourished. Eighty-nine percent of new arrivals into Dolo Ado are women and children.

"Half of the population in Somalia—6.2 million people—are in need of assistance," said Mohamed Abdullahi, International Medical Corps’ Country Director for Somalia. "The drought has wiped out crops and livestock and forced families to sell assets or borrow money to survive. If the response does not scale up, communities in the hardest-hit areas will slide further and further into crisis and people will die—all from causes we could have prevented."

Ethiopia and Kenya 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, 5.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Ethiopia is also hosting a large number of refugees from Somalia (245,000) and South Sudan (335,000).


  • After three years of civil war, 100,000 people are experiencing famine in South Sudan. An additional one million people in South Sudan are on the brink.
  • A third year of drought in the region has left nearly 13 million people in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia severely food insecure, with crops and livestock decimated and food and water prices rising. An estimated 600,000 children under five will be in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in the coming year.
  • Without an immediate and massive response, Somalia is at-risk of a humanitarian catastrophe. Half of the country’s population is already facing acute food insecurity.
  • Our health facility data in Somalia shows a massive increase in the number of malnourished children in the past five months—some by 127%.
  • Many Somalis are already crossing into camps in Ethiopia in search of help. Ethiopia also hosts refugees fleeing war and hunger in South Sudan.


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.

South Sudan

In South Sudan, International Medical Corps is the only health organization working in Nyal, a county in Unity State not far from the areas where famine was declared that is seeing an influx of people fleeing Leer. Our teams are making primary and reproductive health, gender-based violence, and nutrition services to an estimated 80,000 people—many of them internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Leer. This includes a static clinic in Nyal town, where many people from Leer are staying with families, and mobile clinics to reach an additional 20,000 Leer IDPs. We also have trained community health workers in Leer county on identifying, preventing, and referring malnutrition cases as well as other common diseases. International Medical Corps is working in seven of the country’s 11 states, providing health care, nutrition services, and other services to hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan. This includes working in 77 health facilities and running a stabilization center that provides 24-hour care for severely malnourished children with medical complications in the displacement camp in Juba.


In Somalia, International Medical Corps is reaching tens of thousands of people with life-saving health care services, including treatment for moderate and severe malnutrition. We run the only stabilization center, where those with severe malnutrition with medical complications can receive inpatient treatment, in the severely affected southern Mudug region. We also provide outpatient care for moderate and severe malnutrition across Galgaduud and Mudug regions. Our health facility data at both our stabilization centers and outpatient therapeutic program sites show an increasing number of malnourished children over the last five months—some by 127%. We are also trucking water into Galkayo South in Mudug region, providing 19,200 drought-affected people with safe drinking water, as well as rehabilitating water sources and distributing hygiene items. In Mogadishu, we are responding to the influx of new IDPs fleeing famine by providing access to much needed primary healthcare services.


In Ethiopia, International Medical Corps is working in 39 of the worst-affected woredas in 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. We support 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. International Medical Corps is also providing nutrition, health, and protection services to Somali refugees in Dolo Ado and South Sudanese refugees in Gambella. In Dolo Ado, where approximately 89% of new arrivals are women and children, the malnutrition rate since the beginning of 2017 stands at 74% for children and 37% of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.


In Kenya, International Medical Corps is supporting 461 health facilities in seven counties—where more than 93,000 children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are acutely malnourished—to prevent and treat malnutrition. We do this by strengthening the capacity of the health system to deliver high-quality nutrition services, advocating with the government to increase its commitment to eradicating malnutrition, and educating communities about how malnutrition can be prevented. We are training 216 frontline health care workers to manage severe and moderate malnutrition and helping community facilities carry out mass screening campaigns—even in very remote and hard to reach areas—to identify cases of malnutrition and connect them to treatment services.


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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.