Hunger Crisis in East Africa

by World Vision
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Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa
Hunger Crisis in East Africa

World Vision is working in six East African countries that are wrestling with prolonged conflict, locust infestation, natural disasters, and COVID-19. These circumstances—coupled with rising food prices—have left nearly 8 million people facing a hunger crisis.

 World Vision is responding with interventions to:

1.Improve access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation promotion services to mitigate waterborne diseases

2. Improve access to food for affected households

3. Increase access to curative and preventive quality emergency health and nutrition services

4. Improved sustainable livelihoods to girls and women. support households and  communities to multiply resilient food systems

5. Ensure protection for children, women and vulnerable groups, including psychosocial support for reproductive age


In 2021 World Vision reached over 5 million people with services, including 3 million children.

One of the six countries we are serving in this response is South Sudan. Our programs in South Sudan are the largest among our work with WFP, serving more than 1 million people. Once COVID-19 restrictions lifted, we re-engaged with local schools to begin feeding programs, providing healthy meals to many children who experienced hunger and could not easily access food outside of school.

 As World Food Program phased out programs in displacement camps within South Sudan to make room for greater government involvement, we shifted our resources to support food distributions in other areas throughout East Africa that were facing food shortages. This included expanding to areas within South Sudan where we previously hadn’t worked. The crisis levels of food shortages in that region were due to a confluence of factors, including natural disasters, political instability, and crop losses.

Photo caption: Through World Vision’s partnership with World Food Program in South Sudan, 6-month-old Ninagu received vitamins and food supplements after showing signs of malnutrition. World Vision also trained Ninagu’s parents on nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation, giving them tools to create a healthier home environment. After three months of being monitored and cared for, Ninagu is now well-fed and healthy.


East Africa is not alone in its hunger crisis warning. The world is facing its worst hunger crisis in modern times and other regions in the Partnership are also impacted. In Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, there are more than 45 million people at risk of starvation (in IPC4) or vulnerable to famine or famine-like conditions.

We are closing this GlobalGiving project and opening a new project called Global Hunger Response that will incorporate the East Africa countries along with these additional regions.

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The armband is red, Ocan is severely malnourished
The armband is red, Ocan is severely malnourished

A fight against the spread of hunger is underway across East Africa, where 32.9 million people are experiencing a complex hunger crisis driven by conflict, the economic impacts of the global pandemic, swarms of desert locusts, and extreme weather conditions.

According to the United Nations, at least 5.3 million people in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan are living under “emergency” conditions, with the threat of acute malnutrition and death. In South Sudan, 105,000 are living under “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity.

By air, land, and sea, World Vision teams are delivering emergency food supplies across the region—an area so vast it equates to more than half the size of the United States—in a race to feed hungry families living in some of the most dangerous and isolated places on earth.

“We are marshaling resources to support vulnerable communities across East Africa to avert the catastrophic effects of hunger and loss of livelihoods,” says Joseph, regional humanitarian and emergency affairs director for World Vision in East Africa. “We are particularly concerned about the impact on children.

The hunger crisis has exacted a heavy toll on the region’s youngest. Over 10 million children in East Africa are wasted, meaning they’re too thin for their height. Among them is 2-year-old Ocan of South Sudan, whose life has hung in the balance more than once.

“It has been a year and my child still suffers from malnutrition due to the dire situation caused by poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the hunger crisis,” says his mother, Elizabeth. “My [two other] children succumbed to anemia last year. One was twin brother to Ocan, who is now 2 years [old]but can barely walk due to poor health.”

After receiving nutritional care from World Vision, Ocan started his recovery. “Two weeks ago, Ocan’s condition was upgraded. My son moved from severe to moderately malnourished,” Elizabeth says. “The [therapeutic food] is doing great work in his body. He was able to play with his friends.”

World Vision is already at work in East Africa and has decades of experience helping hungry children in crisis.

We’ve launched an emergency response to help feed 7.1 million people, including 3.4 million children, across six affected countries—supplying families with nutritional care and screening children and pregnant mothers for malnutrition.

Conflict aggravates hunger crisis

In Ethiopia, a food security analysis issued in July 2021 for the northern region of Tigray and neighboring areas showed that 4.4 million people faced high levels of acute food insecurity, with about 400,000 already facing “catastrophic” conditions.

Even before conflict erupted in this region in November 2020, families struggled with decimated crops, food shortages, inflated food and fuel prices, and an overburdened healthcare system due to recurrent drought, desert locusts, and the spread of COVID-19.

“World Vision Ethiopia asks for your prayers and support at this difficult and challenging time, as we accompany the children of Ethiopia during the crisis,” says National Director Edward Brown.

World Vision is deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of children made extremely vulnerable by recent conflict. So far, we’ve helped over 1.1 million people in Tigray with services such as access to clean water, food, and emergency shelter.

Beginning in 2014, a series of successive droughts in Kenya led to poor crops and harvests. At least 1.9 million people need emergency food supplies. World Vision is responding through food aid, water trucking initiatives, and treatment referrals for women and children facing acute malnutrition, as well as by helping communities grow gardens so they have access to nutrient-rich vegetables.

In South Sudan, World Vision, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), has deployed mobile response teams to reach the hungriest people in the most remote, isolated areas. Traveling by helicopter, mobile response teams register people for food aid and deliver food supplies by road, river, and airdrops.

South Sudan faces “catastrophic” levels of acute hunger, according to the “Hunger Hotspots” report from the WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Globally, World Vision is the WFP’s largest implementing partner.

“Our farthest work location delivering food supplies to people in need is around three hours by helicopter ride. Some areas are difficult to reach with no cellular networks, passable roads, available markets, and medical facilities,” says Benard Nyataya, food assistance coordinator for World Vision in South Sudan.

Through this partnership, 193,131 displaced people living in 19 different locations across three counties in South Sudan’s most remote corners have received the nutrition supplies they need to survive the lean season.

“I am proud to be a part of a team that is committed to reaching out to the most hurting communities, and suffering in extreme conditions where few would want to go to,” says Bernard.

 “Everyone is poor and hungry”

In Uganda, hunger is pushing communities to the brink, with rising levels of food insecurity.

“I am hungry. I just want to eat,” says 7-year-old Evelyn, who hasn’t eaten in 20 hours. Sometimes she goes to bed hungry, having not eaten in days.

In her community, many families are being forced to reduce the quantity or quality of their meals—in some cases, both.

“The hunger crisis is widespread, but particularly dangerous for the refugee community who are already battling the effects of COVID-19. Most of them lost their small businesses and all income-generating activities, so, a reduced ration cut could only mean worse,” says Paul Mwirichia, cash and food assistance manager for World Vision in Uganda.

Refugees, the majority from South Sudan, have always had challenges with the amount of food they receive, but the WFP’s 30% ration cut last spring, amid a pandemic, was a devasting blow. With a continued decline in funding, the WFP announced further cuts in February 2021. Currently, refugees have to make do with only 60% of a full ration.

Evelyn’s father, James, used to earn wages by digging. New opportunities for labor are now hard to come by. Before the pandemic, he could earn 10,000 Ugandan shillings a day (US$3), enough to buy food for a few days.

“It is sad to see that as a man I cannot provide for my family,” James says. “The situation wasn’t this bad before. … But now, everyone is poor and hungry.”

Pastor Isaac, a local church leader, is doing his best to follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat”—offering help to James’ family and others as he’s able, on his meager income.

“So many people come to me asking for [something] to eat,” he says. “I mostly help those that are in much need like the elderly and widows who [cannot] feed their children. Many people now eat once a day, while others go for days without food.”

Pastor Isaac hopes that one day his community can gather around a table where everyone has enough food to eat.

“We understand that most of the people who support us were also affected by the pandemic, but we appeal to them not to get tired of helping refugees; God will reward them,” he says.

Ocan is getting better eating therapeutic packets
Ocan is getting better eating therapeutic packets
Walking home from World Vision's WFP distribution
Walking home from World Vision's WFP distribution
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Across East Africa, almost 33 million people are nearing famine levels

Countries that were dealing with crises such as prolonged conflict, flooding, drought, and locust infestations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are at the greatest risk of famine, if conditions worsen. In March, World Vision declared a Category III multi-country crisis, signaling the severity of the hunger crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. People are facing starvation, critical acute malnutrition, and death. Rising food insecurity also increases the risks of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation among women and girls.

Some highlights of World Vision’s work in the East Africa region:

Meeting urgent needs in Tigray

The new conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, has generated additional humanitarian needs and highlighted instability for the broader region. In response:

•   World Vision gave 218 households iron sheets, wooden poles, nails, and tarps to build new shelters.

•   We distributed cash transfers to help people buy construction materials and pay local carpenters to help build shelters.


Protecting families in South Sudan

The impact of prolonged conflict and weak essential services have left 7.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 4 million people remain displaced, and 6.4 million people do not have enough food, with the pandemic leading to increased hunger and loss of livelihoods. Our response included:

•   Providing 967,347 people with food and cash assistance, as well as support to rebuild livelihoods

•   Reaching nearly 115,000 people through child protection and gender-based violence awareness activities

•   Providing more than 100,000 people with safe drinking water through water treatment plants

•   Distributing school supplies and supporting local schools, reaching 19,167 children


Fighting locusts in East Africa

More than 957,000 people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda have benefited from World Vision’s response to the locust infestation. Our work included the following:

•   Training 740 committees of government staff and 1,054 community leaders in Ethiopia on locust-control methods

•   Providing cash to households in Ethiopia and Somalia to help them recover their livelihoods

•   Distributing tools, early maturing seeds, and seedlings to farmers in Kenya to increase food production

In 2020, a swarm of locusts in Kenya destroyed many people’s farms, including Amina (in photo with her daughter), whose crops are necessary to provide food and income for her family. Without the crops, Amina’s family went for days without food. World Vision stepped in by providing cash assistance and business training. Some recipients bought livestock, while others, like Amina, opened businesses and used some of the money to buy food and other essentials for their families.

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In East Africa, millions of families are battling hunger, malnutrition, destroyed livelihoods, and poverty, brought on by COVID-19, floods, mass displacement, and the most aggressive plague of locusts in seven decades.

Saving livelihoods and food sources

To help the region deal with locusts:

  • World Vision equipped community leaders to train others on diversifying crops, managing livestock and crops to reduce loss, and implementing a low-cost land regeneration method to restore farmlands.
  • More than 1,000 farmers in Kenya impacted by locusts received drought-tolerant seeds to help rebuild their livelihoods.
  • Households received cash assistance to help them meet their basic needs.

Recovering from floods

In response to floods that have left thousands of people in makeshift shelters, World Vision distributed food, non-food items (such as kitchen utensils, blankets, and hygiene supplies), seeds and farming equipment, and cash vouchers.

In displacement camps, we focused on providing proper sanitation facilities and ensuring people had access to clean drinking water, whether through new water systems or water purification methods. For example, 3,872 people in displacement camps in Somalia received wheelbarrows, rakes, brooms, and protective gloves to improve sanitation conditions, and 3,000 people learned about proper hygiene.

Protecting families in South Sudan

Since 2016, intercommunal fighting in South Sudan has forced many people out of their homes. The situation has put children at risk of abduction, violence, and psychosocial distress. We also are witnessing a significant need for women and girls to access gender-based violence-prevention services.

Our response included:

  • Training social workers on child protection and gender-based violence
  • Informing 52,514 people about child protection issues through health centers and door-to-door visits
  • Setting up Child-Friendly Spaces, giving 1,429 children outlets to play, learn, and express their feelings
  • Empowering 149 women with literacy and life skills, and distributing feminine hygiene kits to 218 women


Photo caption

Since floods forced Elseba (seated) and her family from their home, they have been staying at a makeshift camp. They were cold and hungry until they received food, blankets, sleeping mats, cooking utensils, and money from World Vision. Elseba no longer struggles to feed her family, and she is saving money to rebuild her home.

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Over 624,000 IDPs and returnees receive emergency food aid to cushion the blow of COVID-19

World Vision, in collaboration with USAID, has been providing food aid to 624,009 food-insecure households in Ethiopia, Gedeo-Guji IDPs, and returnees since 2018. Following the advent of COVID-19, World Vision effected a double rationing system with a view to limiting the spread of the virus by restricting people to stay at home.

Abera, a 25-year-old a mother of five, is among the returnees. Her first-born child Yohannes (12), a grade 1 student dropped his education during displacement and could not continue as things turned from bad to worse. “I have nothing to feed, educate, and provide clothing to my children with. I don’t see any hope to my children as I have been an aid recipient since the displacement,” Abera tells of her concern.

The food aid, Abera obtains, is not sufficient to feed her children. “I get 90 kg wheat, 5 litres of cooking oil, and 10 kg pulse which doesn’t cover our monthly consumption,” she adds.

54-year-old Nigatu, a father of six is another returnee. He lost all his properties during the conflict and left destitute. Now food aid is the only means of living to his children and family until his farm yields. The advent of COVID-19 has worsened things for Nigatu and many low-income families across the country.

“The coming of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an immense challenge on us, our family, children, and the entire community,” says Nigatu.

The densely populated Gedeo and Guji areas have remained food-insecure even under good harvest seasons. A case in point is Abaya District, where 38 percent of the total population is made up of food aid recipients.

Ashenafi is the Head of Abaya District Disaster Risk Management Office. He says a number of food insecurity aggravating incidents happened over the past few months including desert locust infestation, malaria and cholera outbreaks, and flooding. “Eight kebeles affected by desert locust infestation and now 500 households displaced due to recent flooding in a district where 55,980 people are food aid recipients,” he adds.

Preventive measures effected to contain the spread of COVID-19 further deteriorated the already weakened social and economic system across the country.

World Vision, in collaboration with the Ethiopia local government, faith leaders, and community members is providing humanitarian assistance to the most affected and vulnerable families.

“We are working in close collaboration with humanitarian agencies including GOAL and World Vision to help the most vulnerable social groups in Ethiopia through awareness-raising on preventive measures and provision of emergency lifesaving activities. Even though people are aware of the dangers of the virus, they are tempted not to apply measures, as most of our community are low income and lives on daily labor,” says Ashenafi.

Bogalech (38), a mother of 10, lives in Wonago District who lives on subsistence farming and petty trading to educate her children. “I do petty trade to feed and educate my children, but now everything is impossible. It is a very difficult time. Things are complicated for us. No movement; if you like to go out taking the risk, everything is costly. Transport costs are doubled. We are scared,” she describes the situation.

16-year-old girl Konjit is a grade 2 student in Wonago District. She says the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is immense on students who have had to remain at home. “Remaining at home is very difficult. We put unnecessary pressure on our parents to provide us food and other necessities, but they can’t afford due to the ongoing socio-economic crisis,” she explains adding that “The food provision at this time is very important for us it will relive our parents' burden at least for this month and our worries as well.”

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Organization Information

World Vision

Location: Federal Way, WA - USA
Project Leader:
Bernadette Martin
Federal Way, WA United States

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