East Africa Famine: 20 million struggle for food

Famine has been declared in South Sudan which is further fueled by a deadly combination of drought and conflict. Officials estimated that nearly 4 million people are already struggling to get enough food and it is expected the famine will spread to more areas such as Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, in the coming months affecting an additional 1 million people. In Kenya, the government has declared a national emergency and Ethiopia is battling a new wave of drought following the strongest El Niño on record.

Below is the data forecasted by FEWSNET (explained later)  which explain the grave situation that famine affected countries are going through:

East Africa Famine

WHO declares famine ? How famine is being forecasted even before its occurrence?

The declaration of famine is made jointly by several parties: the government of the affected country, various agencies of the United Nations and a “Famine Early Warning Systems Network“(FEWSNET).


FEWSNET was set up by the U.S. government to collect and analyze data from a range of sources. It draws data from survey which is collected on the ground by aid agencies and governments as well as climate and satellite data which is provided by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The setup was developed in 1980s in a response to the devastating famines caused in East and West Africa . The basic idea was to prevent such disasters by providing policymakers with a input of forecasting system that which inform him about food crisis and what needs to be done to keep it from inflating to the next level.

Criteria in declaring a country as famine ridden country:

Officials use a five-phase scale to rank food crises that has been developed since the mid-2000s.

  • Phase 1 — referred to as “minimal food insecurity” — the situation is troubling.This is the right opportunity for governments and international donors to step in with aid to mitigate the crisis. In this people gets back to normal when drought intensity become less severe.
  • Phase 2 – This phase happens when there is no suitable action taken in phase 1 .In this phase an area is considered as “stressed”
  • Phase 3 – It is the phase of “crisis.In this phase, between 10 to 15 percent of the population is starting to suffer from what’s called “acute malnutrition”.
  • Phase 4 – In this situation has reached the point of an “emergency.” Where People start looking skeletal,hair become bleached due to lack of vitamin and result in failure of multiple Organ
  • Phase 5 – Phase five is “famine” situation, three criteria need to be met: At least one in five households now faces an extreme lack of food, more than 30 percent of the population is suffering from acute malnutrition, and at least two people out of every 10,000 are dying each day.

Causes of East Africa Famine crisis:

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), current situation is so widespread because of three consecutive years of diminished food production which has exhausted people’s capacity. Additionally, access constraints, rising refugee numbers and outbreaks of communicable diseases in the greater region adds to the pressure.


  • Conflict is the main reason for the present status of country like South Sudan. The country has been in the conflict since its inception. Most of the people are engaged in farming for its livelihood but war has worsened the situation making it impossible for them to farm. As food production declines there is a shortage of supply which result in inflation which affect purchasing power of people.


  • Drought has been especially acute across Somalia, Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. There has been failure of rain in Somalia for past 3 consecutive year. Being a pastoralist economy they depend on rainfall for the welfare of their cattle which are the prime source for their food.

Climate change:

  • In 2017, the hunger crisis has been caused by severe and extreme weather shifts which was a part of the El Niño effect which has resulted in drought.

Inspite of warning of hunger crisis no action was taken which should be regarded as failure of collective responsibility of International community. Hence decisive action is needed early, rather than responding post-crisis; International collaboration and all stakeholder need to work toward reducing drought risk and building community resilience which is the key to mitigate such crisis.


What is the difference between Drought and Famine?

  • To start, Drought is a weather condition but famine is an economic and social condition.
  • Drought is a period of below average rainfall, longer and more severe than a dry spell. Drought is usually caused by lack of rainfall. Drought can usually be of three types:
    • Meteorological Drought: When there is lack of rainfall for particular period.
    • Hydrological Drought: When there is such shortage that water resources likes lakes, river go below specified level.
    • Agricultural Drought: When there is such shortage of water & moisture in air that agriculture production is impaired and yields reduced.
  • Famine: is a condition where people do not have access to food.  Famines are caused by either or both of the following reasons:
    • Decline in the availability of food
    • Reduction in people’s access to, or their ability to acquire food.
  • Hence, famine can be an economic condition also when food has become so costly that most people cannot afford it.
  • Decline in food availability (famine) may be caused by a range of “natural” and human-induced-factors.
  • Natural factors include:
    • Floods
    • Agricultural drought
    • Unseasonal cold spells/frosts
    • Pest infestation
    • Crop disease
  • Human induced factors include:
    • Human Conflicts preventing farmers from planting, weeding, harvesting and selling or possibly, involving the physical destruction of standing crops.
    • Unchecked hoarding
    • External economic shocks, e.g., sudden increases in the price of agricultural inputs (power, fertilizers, pesticides, good seeds) or appreciable fall in the sale price of agriculture produce.
    • Disruption in movement of food grains from one part of the country to the other either.
    • Internal macro economic conditions, e.g., poor agricultural pricing policies discouraging farmers from growing food crops (as against cash crops).
  • Hence, drought can be one of the causes of famine. But famine can be caused by multiple reasons.


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