Janna Hamilton Janna Hamilton CREDIT: Oxfam

Horn of Africa crisis deteriorating rapidly

Wednesday 3 August 2011, 4:52PM
By Oxfam


  • People affected set to rise by 25 per cent to 15m
  • More than 500,000 at risk of starvation
  • Famine likely to spread in Somalia
  • Oxfam looks to reach 3m people but faces a $55m shortfall

International agency Oxfam says governments and donors must act with greater urgency in the face of a deteriorating crisis and rising needs in East Africa. Donors must move beyond promises and immediately turn money pledged into action on the ground, as more than half a million people are at risk of starvation, the agency said.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Janna Hamilton arrived in Dadaab this week. “It’s hard to comprehend the scale of this crisis,” said Hamilton. “The rows of tents just stretch on for kilometres and up to 1500 people continue to arrive each day. There’s certainly no short fix to this crisis.”

Yet the international community is failing to keep pace with a crisis that is spiraling out of control.

The United Nations estimates that the total number of people in need could rise up by 25 per cent and surpass 15 million soon if urgent action on all fronts is not taken, such as providing emergency food, water and shelter. Despite generous pledges of money from some rich governments and donors, their generosity is failing to keep pace with the level of need.

As the crisis deteriorates, the amount of money needed goes up. Last week, the UN increased its appeals for Somalia and Kenya by $600m, bringing the funding shortfall to $1.47 billion. Although more money is in the pipeline, according to UN figures, as much as $280 million of the more than $700m pledged in the past few weeks has not yet been committed to a particular activity. The priority now will be to convert what has been a generous response by donors so far into activities to save people's lives.

“The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is at the tipping point. Hundreds of thousands will face starvation unless donors step forward, maintain the generosity we have seen in recent weeks and help prevent a catastrophe,” said Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director.

“Aid agencies on the ground are ready and we’ve deployed our best people. Where access is possible, aid agencies like Oxfam have increased programmes to reach people and save as many lives as we can. The question is whether donors are able to act as urgently and convert money into life-saving action,” said Coates.

Oxfam aims to scale up its work to reach three million people across Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. To do so it needs $91m, and has so far raised $36m, leaving a gap of $55m.

According to new figures by the United Nations 564,000 people are at risk of death without urgent intervention in the region. Some 183,000 refugees have left war-torn Somalia towards Ethiopia or Kenya since the beginning of year, according to the UN.

Oxfam warned that the next 3-4 months are set to worsen in Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of southern Somalia and the situation will remain classified as an “emergency” until the end of the year. The whole south of Somalia is likely to be declared a famine due to a combination of worsening pastoral conditions, further food price increases and poor harvest.

In Somalia, Oxfam is providing water and sanitation to more than 230,000 people on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The agency is also assisting over 60,000 who have fled drought zones of Southern Somalia and have arrived in the capital. Throughout Somalia, the agency is reaching over 500,000 people who benefit from various programs which include direct cash relief for displaced families, water and sanitation services, and cash for work projects amongst others.

In light of the severity and urgency of the crisis in the Horn of Africa and the famine in Somalia, Oxfam New Zealand lifted its fundraising goal to $500,000. Donations can be made at or by calling 0800 400 666.