East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response

by Concern Worldwide US
Play Video
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
East Africa Hunger Crisis: Concern's Response
Photo credit: Jennifer Nolan / Concern Worldwide
Photo credit: Jennifer Nolan / Concern Worldwide

As climate change, conflict, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 increasingly drive hunger around the world, it can be challenging to pause and celebrate successes. Today’s report on Concern’s response to the hunger crisis in East Africa features one such story – the result of a locally-led, contextually-sensitive approach to livelihood development that simultaneously addresses income security, nutrition, gender equality, and education to uplift a whole community.


The Chalbi desert was once part of an extensive lake in northern Kenya. At around 38,600 square miles (slightly bigger than the state of Indiana), it’s aptly named: In Borana, the language spoken by the Gabra people who live in this region, “Chalbi” means “bare and salty.”

When the rain comes, the desert fills with shallow water and is frequented by wildlife including ostriches, zebras, and spotted hyenas. But when the rain disappears, the endless stretch of desert provides a unique opportunity for the nomadic Gabra tribe: Desert salt. This salt provides essential nutrients for livestock (it’s said to help animals grow healthier) and yield better produce. But not everyone has access to it, especially those living in the hills where Kenya borders Ethiopia. This is where the Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group comes in.

A group of 15 women embark on a two-day trip to collect salt from the desert, which is 12 miles away. They then sell the salt to local farmers and herders, who either mix it with water or let their animals lick it in its pure form. This salt provides a great source of income for these hard-working women, not only to buy food for their families but to also pool their income together into a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) so that they can all invest in a better future.

Not all women can get access to banks or credit, which is a substantial barrier to escaping extreme poverty. With a VSLA, this group can do so on their own. Every Monday, the group meets and each member contributes 200 Kenyan shillings (a little under $2.00). They then lend a part of this savings to a woman who needs some extra funds for her business (such as seeds) or her family (such as an unforeseen medical expense). The money is paid back with a modest interest rate that is also added to the savings box and used to help the next woman who needs it, thereby continuing the cycle of support.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“We’re supporting girls’ education so they don’t fall behind,” says Doke, a member of the group. “If you educate a girl child and she pursues well in her studies, she will get somewhere. She not only supports her family, but the entire community can benefit.”

The Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group puts some of their profits towards supporting girls’ education in the area, recognizing that an education is key in helping the next generation build a pathway out of poverty. So far, the Chalbi Salt Self-Help Group has supported ten girls in their community, aged 11-14, by providing uniforms, exercise books and pens.

As a natural resource, desert salt is (naturally) unreliable. During the rainy season, it completely dissolves, leaving nothing behind. Members of the group recall one time getting caught in the rain while returning home with 100 bags of salt, their hard work put to waste without any shelter. Doke says she and the group began to panic during the long rainy season.

In response to this, Concern provided the funding needed to keep the Chalbi Salt group afloat through the season. A cash grant of 25,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $225) helped to cover the lost income. We also led agricultural and business trainings with skills that the group members could use in periods of increasingly erratic weather in northern Kenya, where the climate crisis is being felt acutely.

With the money left over, Doke and her group invested in other non-weather-dependent businesses, such as buying and selling clothes. The group are now back on their feet and making exciting plans for more future investments, such as a vehicle to transport the salt quickly and safely. For now, though, their ambition and determination to support local women and girls shines through every step of their 12-mile journey.

Concern has spent nearly two decades in Kenya, working both in urban contexts of Nairobi and rural communities such as Doke’s. Last year, we worked with 74 communities to achieve self-sustaining livelihoods and lives, meaning that they no longer need to rely on us for support.

Thank you for supporting meaningful and lasting change in East African communities facing extreme poverty and hunger.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
Home veggie garden in Marsabit (Jennifer Nolan)
Home veggie garden in Marsabit (Jennifer Nolan)

According to a recent World Bank study, 65% of the world’s adult workforce living below the poverty line rely on agriculture, leaving them particularly susceptible to the harmful impacts of climate change: reduced access to food, lower food quality, harmed livestock, and more.

But these effects are not universally felt around the world, depending on a country or region’s natural climate and how the local population engages in agriculture.

Marsabit County, Kenya, is one such place that has been largely affected by climate change. The region has semi-arid land and unreliable seasonal rainfall that offer little opportunity for anything but survival. Lately, even that has become difficult — with persistent drought being the biggest challenge.

80% of Kenya is agriculturally unproductive. This leaves the grazing of livestock across large tracts of ‘rangeland’ as the only real livelihood available to those who live there. In Marsabit county in the north, at least 80% of the population depend on livestock, mostly sheep and goats. The local breeds are hardy, but their market value is low.

Concern’s Approach

With funding support from the US Government and generous donors like you, Concern has been working with pastoralists in Marsabit to come up with effective solutions to a now persistent and life-threatening problem.

1. Goats

The Small African goat that’s popular in the region grows slowly and only has moderate milk production. To boost the stock, Concern introduced Somali Galla buck goats, which are more substantial and more productive, to breed those characteristics into the local herd. This means more milk and a better market price for the families of Marsabit.

2. Gardens

Although climate change has left the land in places like Marsabit unsuitable for large-scale crop farming, there is an alternative: home vegetable gardens. The Concern team trains local people, mostly women, in simple methods of shade and moisture conservation to make the most of sack planters and small plots at home. Tomatoes, spinach, and kale provide vital nutrients for the whole household and protect young children and pregnant women against malnutrition.

3. Grass

The climate shocks in Kenya are taking a toll on the pastoral landscape, killing essential grass. Herders must range further to find sufficient food for their animals, putting them under stress and often leading to disputes. In an effort to rehabilitate the rangelands, Concern supported the purchase of tools for bush clearance and protective fencing, and communities have been experimenting with new drought-resistant and salt-tolerant grass seed types.

4. Water

The Concern team has been restoring water supplies across Marsabit, installing solar pumps and raising pipes off the ground to prevent corrosion. This means pastoralists won’t have to travel large distances with their herds. It also means there’s a regular supply available for drinking and irrigating home vegetable gardens.


For the families of Northern Kenya, these solutions work together to provide a lifeline. Concern is grateful to the diverse community of donors that make projects to address long-term food security possible, while also allowing us to stay flexible in the face of sudden food shortages and famines. Thank you for being a part of that community.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
Mogadishu, Somalia (Photo: Kieran McConville)
Mogadishu, Somalia (Photo: Kieran McConville)

In 2021, hunger in the Horn of Africa persists. The issue remains complex, inextricably tied to concurrent crises such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflict. In Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia, violence – both prolonged and recent – has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes and their livelihoods for safety, but often also food insecurity in neighboring countries that are ill equipped to assist these refugees or their new host communities.

With the help of generous supporters like you, Concern is working to ensure that people living in extreme poverty who are affected by violence are able to find food and also build resilience for whatever the future holds. Read on to learn more about the situations in these three hunger and conflict-affected countries and what Concern is doing to help.


In November 2020, conflict broke out in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region fueled by political tension and the country’s role as a large host community to refugees from Eritrea. Over 50,000 Ethiopian refugees fleeing violence have since crossed into neighboring Sudan. 

This is especially worrisome since prior to 2020, Ethiopia had been on track to meet its goal of under 3% of residents living below the national poverty line by 2029 – a first in sub-Saharan Africa. The confluence of crises in Ethiopia will continue to threaten both livelihoods and food security. While this latest conflict is still in its early stages, repatriation for refugees displaced by violence is never a short process. 

What’s being done

Concern has flown in its emergency team to respond to the rapidly growing number of refugees arriving into Sudan from Ethiopia and is working in the border town of Hamdayet and in the Um Rakuba refugee camp erecting tents, distributing supplies, and promoting health and hygiene in the crowded conditions.

South Sudan

Over the last decade, violence has forced people to flee their homes and plunged South Sudan into chaos and famine. As of December 2020, 6.5 million South Sudanese require humanitarian assistance, and over 63% of the country faces food insecurity.

Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has faced constant turbulence. While the country has extensive oil fields that form its economic backbone, it is also landlocked which means that trouble with international negotiations has resulted in unpaid labor and ballooning inflation. These shocks hit women and children hardest, particularly when it comes to food shortages and malnutrition.

What’s being done

In coordination with local partner, Concern provides therapeutic nutrition services in remote communities with a mobile version of our Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programs. We also support 49 health facilities to deliver life-saving interventions around malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Concern also works in the Protection of Civilian site in Bentiu with WASH programming to provide access to safe water, proper sanitation, and hygiene promotion services.


Political instability and civilian insecurity have combined with the devastating effects of climate change to form a complex humanitarian crisis in Somalia. In the last two years, the number of Somalis requiring humanitarian assistance has increased by 40% and now exceeds 5 million — nearly half of the country’s population. 

Decades of conflict have made it difficult for many Somalis to keep a steady life and livelihood. As of 2020, nearly 15% of Somalia’s population is displaced. Those who are internally displaced within Somalia live tenuously, with persistent threats of eviction and marginalization. Job loss due to displacement can be exacerbated if a family relocates to an area where they may face greater inequality. All of this is combined with a decade-long drought in the country, floods, and one of the most devastating locust crises on record, leaving Somalia’s majority-agrarian population facing additional economic and food insecurity. 

What’s being done

Concern has been in Somalia for nearly 35 years, responding to both the challenges of climate change and population displacement. We focus on nutrition support in the areas we work, as both of these circumstances can lead to acute malnutrition and famine, but we also work to build long-term systems and solutions for livelihoods and disaster risk reduction.


Thank you again for supporting Concern Worldwide's efforts to address food insecurity and its root causes in East Africa.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
A child being fed RUTF by her mother (South Sudan)
A child being fed RUTF by her mother (South Sudan)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a hallmark Concern Worldwide program, one that has revolutionized the fight against hunger around the world: Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).

With hunger on the rise in East Africa and beyond due to COVID-19, we wanted to take this opportunity to give our generous supporters an in-depth look into the development of what continues to be our key method for facing the hunger challenge head-on.


During the hunger emergencies of the 1980s and 1990s, children with severe acute malnutrition required around-the-clock care at therapeutic feeding centers (TFCs). The nutrients were delivered through therapeutic milk, which required on-site preparation and clean water. Because of the need for 24-hour medical staffing, TFCs were few and far between. Mothers would often need to leave their homes for weeks at a time, which meant lost work and other children left behind. 

Recovery rates were low because moms would often withdraw their children before they received full treatment to return to work. Infection was also a risk in the crowded patient wards. Millions of children unnecessarily died because they were too far away, relapsed after an incomplete course of treatment, or were exposed to other illnesses.

Community-based care seemed to be the solution, but there was one more problem: At the time, there wasn’t a suitable therapeutic food that could be used at home by mothers. Everything required water and if the family used contaminated water, they risked further harming their child. 

RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) gives malnourished children the vital nutrients they need to recover. The original and most well-known RUTF, Plumpy’nut, is a peanut-based paste served in a foil pouch. This means that it’s portable, non-perishable, and can be eaten by babies who aren’t yet ready for solid foods.

The exact ingredients for an RUTF can vary based on the brand, but the standard RUTF has the same features: high in calories, nutrients, and vitamins to help children suffering from acute malnutrition rapidly gain weight. 

In 2000, famine swept through the Horn of Africa, threatening millions of people in Ethiopia. The government had banned TFCs as they believed them to be ineffective. This gave Concern an opportunity to pilot its new CMAM program model with Plumpy’nut. 

Community members were trained to recognize the signs of malnutrition using tools like MUAC tape (which uses the measurement of a child’s arm as a correlation for malnutrition). They were also trained in how to administer Plumpy’nut at home. Children were then monitored through home visits by these trained health workers. 

Together, CMAM and RUTF proved to be a powerful duo. In emergencies such as famines, the child mortality rate can often climb to 20 to 30%. With the combined use of CMAM and RUTF in Ethiopia, mortality rates were 4.5%.

In 2007, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme issued a joint statement recognizing community-based therapeutic care as a best practice, setting in motion a global spread for this transformative approach.

With just small packets of peanut paste, Concern Worldwide and other humanitarian organizations have successfully treated millions of acutely malnourished children and continue to do so today. 

In a time when travel and interpersonal contact must be limited for public health and safety, the CMAM model has become even more indispensable. When COVID began, Concern created a guide for health and nutrition staff to adjust the program to continue treating children experiencing extreme hunger during lockdowns and with minimal risk of viral transmission.

Thank you for your support of our efforts, including CMAM, to combat hunger in East Africa. Concern could not innovate, adapt, and grow without the generous help of people like you!

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
Social distancing, Somalia (Concern Worldwide)
Social distancing, Somalia (Concern Worldwide)

The World Food Program recently warned that COVID-19 could push as many as 265 million people worldwide into acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. Over the last several months, it has been made clear to Concern’s global staff that COVID-19 is not only a public health crises in its own right, but it also serves as an amplifier for existing issues, in particular hunger.

Prior to the spread of the pandemic, East Africa was already grappling with swarms of crop-destroying locusts. In January 2020 the largest locust infestation in decades struck Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, devouring tens of thousands of hectares of cropland.

Swarms have now spread further – heavy spring rains sustained humid weather conditions, allowing new swarms to breed that are predicted to be up 20 times larger than those from earlier this year.

A small swarm measuring one square kilometer can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Not only can these swarms devour this season’s food, they can also consume the seeds for next season, endangering lives and livelihoods for months and even years.

Concern has been working with affected communities in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia to provide both immediate and long-term aid in response. We are providing cash payments to families to buy fodder for livestock, food, seeds, agricultural tools and other basic items. Our ongoing work in the areas of disaster preparedness and smart agriculture – including crop diversification, the introduction of biofortified crops, and more effective food storage techniques – has mitigated the impact of the infestation where possible.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is slowing efforts to fight the infestation by diverting funds, affecting global supply chains, and restricting travel for pesticide-spraying vehicles and technical experts to affected regions. Concern has been advocating actively with the Kenyan government to ensure that the response to the infestation is not kept on the backburner.

These same restrictions on trade and movement have reduced the availability of food for purchase and raised prices. For those whose incomes are compromised by pandemic-related shutdowns, layoffs, and travel restrictions, it has become even harder to afford enough food to keep their families healthy. School closers have also left children without what was sometimes their only complete meal of the day.

Concern’s combined approach of cash/food/voucher distributions and livelihood generating support is helping families get their next meal and plan for those to come. We are providing personal protective equipment to all staff and volunteers, instituting social distancing, and modifying program practices and schedules to be able to continue our work safely and effectively, from nutrition assessment and treatment for expecting mothers and children and distributing supplies to maintaining access to clean water and income generation training.

Your support is essential to keeping up these efforts in the region, meeting growing need and adapting existing programs.


Thank you for being a part of our global community!

The Concern Team

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

About Project Reports

Project reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you can recieve an email when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports without donating.

Sign up for updates

Organization Information

Concern Worldwide US

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @concern
Project Leader:
Hannah Mack
New York , NY United States
$18,253 raised of $20,500 goal
206 donations
$2,247 to go
Donate Now
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. View other ways to donate

Concern Worldwide US has earned this recognition on GlobalGiving:

Help raise money!

Support this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Get incredible stories, promotions, and matching offers in your inbox

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.