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Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis

Fight global hunger

Hunger has reached unprecedented levels globally.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), “A record 349 million people across 79 countries are facing acute food insecurity – up from 287 million in 2021. More than 900,000 people worldwide are fighting to survive in famine-like conditions.”

In 2023, it is likely there will not be enough food in the system, which will push global food prices higher. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine contributes to the rise in hunger with less wealthy countries particularly vulnerable, including those in the Horn of Africa.

After five consecutive below-average rains, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is expanding and deepening. According to WFP, “Regardless of how the 2023 rains perform, extremely high humanitarian needs will persist through 2023 while a full recovery from a drought of this magnitude will take years.”

A forecast from the Climate Hazard Center warned that the region is likely headed for a sixth poor rainy season this spring, from March to May 2023.

Somalia is among the worst affected countries in the Horn of Africa. People are already dying of hunger in Somalia, but it is not possible to know precisely how many. In addition to the worsening drought, increased food prices and conflict, displacement is another major factor in pushing people into famine in Somalia.

The United Nations (UN) and non-government organizations (NGOs) have issued warnings of catastrophic hunger levels for more than a year, but the warnings have been largely overlooked. The explosion in needs is outpacing the resources available. On Nov. 7, UN agencies and partners issued a joint statement calling for immediate action to prevent famine in the Horn of Africa. The statement declared that a humanitarian catastrophe is occurring, and more funds are required to save lives. Famine has become a point of political contention and is deeply divisive in Somalia.

Famine is a highly technical classification that meets specific criteria. Famine is a complex problem, but much can be done before hunger becomes a catastrophic crisis, including early action to prevent food insecurity and famine. While short-term relief is needed to save lives, protecting people’s livelihoods and restoring their dignity are also required to help avoid future famines.

(Women in Ethiopia waiting for water to be trucked in. Women and girls walk up to 10 hours to fetch water. Credit: European Union; Silvya Bolliger 2022; CC BY-ND 2.0)

The warning bells have been ringing about crisis levels of hunger across the Horn of Africa for months. A May 2022 report from Oxfam and Save the Children says that millions face high levels of hunger and that “hunger is not about a lack of knowledge, hunger is a political choice.” The word “famine” is highly charged, and starvation has been used as a weapon of war.

In June 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the drought in the Horn of Africa as a grade three health emergency, the agency’s highest crisis ranking. The classification marked the first time since the grading system was launched in 2011, when a drought and food insecurity crisis reached that level of emergency.

In their September 2022 Hunger Hotspots report, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warn that acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 19 countries or situations, called hunger hotspots, during the outlook period from October 2022 to January 2023. In the report, six countries were identified as being at the highest level of concern, including Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

FEWS NET estimates that the number of people in need of food assistance in Eastern Africa is 70% higher than during the previous food crisis of 2016-2017. Although early action by donors averted a famine in 2017, households and communities have not fully recovered from that food crisis.

In 2011, delayed action by the international community led to 260,000 deaths in the famine in Somalia. It is critical that funders act quickly to support emergency, recovery and resilience programming to save lives and strengthen affected communities.

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Key facts
  • The WFP says that across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, an estimated 22 million people are now acutely food insecure because of the drought.
  • The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in more than four decades. The March to May 2022 rainy season was the driest on record in the last 70 years. Another poor rainy season is predicted from March to May 2023.
  • Somalia’s drought has surpassed the 2010 to 2011 and 2016 to 2017 droughts in terms of duration and severity.
  • Since November 2021, when the government of Somalia declared a drought emergency, the number of drought-affected people in Somalia has more than tripled to 7.8 million. At least 6.7 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity through December.
  • FEWS NET says, “up to 8.3 million people will need humanitarian food assistance through at least mid-2023 in order to treat and prevent hunger and acute malnutrition and reduce the accumulation of ongoing, hunger-related deaths.”
  • In November 2022, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that so far in 2022, 964 children died in Somalia, nearly twice as many as in 2021.
  • According to UNICEF, almost two million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia need urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger.
  • More than 8.9 million livestock, which pastoralist families rely on for their livelihoods, have died across the Horn of Africa.
  • As the drought crisis worsens in Kenya, the UN and humanitarian partners in Kenya appealed for $472.6 million on Nov. 21 to help 4.3 million drought-affected people in 2023. Humanitarian assistance has provided some relief, but Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist.
  • Compounding the drought are rising food prices. In June, the cost for a household in Somalia to meet its basic food needs was between 56% and 110% higher than the five-year average in some hardest-hit regions.
  • In Ethiopia, 16.5 million drought-affected people need assistance in the second half of 2022, a significant increase from the 8.1 million people targeted in the first half of the year. For more, see our Ethiopia Humanitarian Crisis disaster profile.
  • Trauma and grief are deeply ingrained in the Somali experience. A preliminary study by the UN, the health ministry and the national university has found that 76% of Somalis have experienced psychological disorders.
Conflict and violence

According to the WFP and FAO’s September 2022 Hunger Hotspots report, “Organized violence and armed conflict remain the primary driver of acute food insecurity across regions and in the majority of the hunger hotspots. This reflects a global trend where conflict continues to affect the largest share of people facing acute food insecurity.”

Regarding South Sudan, the report says intercommunal violence slightly increased recently, compared to the first quarter of 2022, mostly in Unity, Warrap and Jonglei states. In Somalia, conflict continues to disrupt livelihoods, particularly in central and southern areas. Ethiopia saw an intensification of conflict and interethnic violence in several regions and conflict resumed along the border between Tigray and Amhara regions after the collapse of the fragile, five‑month ceasefire.

On Nov. 21, an al-Shabab gunman killed at least three Kenyan peacekeepers in Somalia. Car bombings are also a semi-regular occurrence in Somalia, contributing to the country’s instability. On Oct. 29, at least 100 people were killed in two car bombings in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

The Horn of Africa remains one of the most conflict-affected regions of the world. The interconnection between climate, conflict and food security is more prominent in fragile or developing contexts. Logistical and security challenges often impede humanitarians’ access to affected people. State and non-state actors often obstruct access in the region.

After witnessing extreme events for decades, including war, famine, mass displacement and inter-communal violence, Somalis experience high levels of psychological disorders. A preliminary study by the UN, the health ministry and the national university has found that 76% of Somalis have experienced such disorders. According to Hodan Ali, Senior Policy Advisor, Health and Social Services, for the Office of the Somalia President, “invisible wounds” keep people from engaging in recovery, reconciliation, and civic engagement initiatives.

Drought and climate shocks

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in more than four decades. The March to May 2022 rainy season was the driest on record in the last 70 years. After five consecutive below-average rainy seasons, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is expanding and deepening.

A forecast from the Climate Hazard Center warns that the region is likely headed for a sixth poor rainy season this spring, from March to May 2023.

The WFP says, “5.1 million children are acutely malnourished in drought-affected areas of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, including 3.7 million moderately malnourished. In addition, 1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women in drought-affected areas need nutritional support to ensure the health of themselves and their children.”

According to FEWS NET’s November 2022 Kenya update, “cumulative rainfall is less than 70 percent of the 30-year average across most of the country, with large areas of the northwestern, northern, and eastern pastoral areas and the marginal agricultural areas recording less than 55 percent of the 30-year average.” Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in Turkana and Marsabit counties. Exacerbating the situation is unseasonably high staple food prices across Kenya.

Source: FEWS NET

The drought in Somalia demonstrates how such a climate crisis multiplies the threats to people on a large scale, affecting life, livelihood, agriculture, industry and national security. Millions of livestock have died in Somalia alone, as the drought damages the main source of income for 80% of the country’s population.

The April to June 2022 gu rainfall season was among the top three driest gu seasons on the historical record across most of Somalia. As seen in the map below, many parts of Somalia have experienced rainfall accumulation significantly below historical averages in 2022.

Source: FEWS NET

According to an FAO rainfall forecast situation report for Somalia that was released on Nov. 8: “Most regions in Somaliland and the southern parts of the country have experienced pasture regrowth and replenishment of water catchments, and this has led to a reduction in water and pasture stress. However, more rains with good intensity and distribution are required to bring to an end the current drought conditions as the amounts received are still inadequate to alleviate the condition especially in sustaining pasture and crop growth. The central regions of Nugaal, Muudug, Galgaduud and southern parts of Bari region have not received any significant rains and the drought conditions are worsening by day.”

The consequences of Somalia’s devastating drought include displacement. Across the Horn of Africa, more than 1.7 million people have been internally displaced from their homes seeking food, water and relief. More than 70,000 new refugees and asylum seekers have also arrived in drought-affected areas since January 2022.

According to Save the Children, the drought in Somalia has led to the biggest movement of refugees into Kenya in over a decade. More than 20,000 Somalis, mostly women and children, arrived in 2022, as of early November. These displacement figures mean there is the risk of inter-communal conflict, as well as increased pressure on already limited basic services.

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)

Experts say weather alone does not create famine because it takes people, too. The biggest obstacle to a massive relief effort is the presence of Al Shabab. There are concerns that governments and humanitarians have not heeded the lessons from earlier drought crises to better manage and respond to the current drought.

Early warning systems designed to warn against various hazards is one need that would help with limiting the impacts of climate-fueled disasters in the long run. According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, “Countries with substantial to comprehensive early warning system coverage have one-eighth the disaster mortality of those with limited or no coverage. Sadly, only 40% of Africa is covered by such systems, and even those are compromised by quality issues.”

Food insecurity and livelihoods

Crop and livestock loss driven by the drought in addition to a spike in food prices, disproportionately affect subsistence farmers and people living in conflict-affected areas.

The WFP says that 22 million people are acutely food insecure (IPC 3+) across the Horn of Africa because of the devastating drought. This figure is almost double the 13 million at the beginning of 2022. The region has felt the effects of the war in Ukraine, with supply shortages and rising fuel costs contributing to price increases.

Together, Ukraine and Russia export 28% of the world’s wheat and 15% of its corn. In 2023, crop production in Ukraine may decline by 35% to 45% in the next harvesting season, which started in July 2022. The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine varies by country but may be devastating for some, including Somalia.

Somalia, for example, relies on Russia and Ukraine for more than 90% of its wheat supplies. The World Bank has said Somalia is one of seven countries globally that face the risk of overlapping food and debt crises, which may expand the impacts there.

Source: McKinsey & Company

According to FEWS NET, “Famine (IPC Phase 5) is projected to emerge in three areas in southern Somalia in April-June 2023 if current high levels of multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance are not sustained. After warnings of the likelihood of Famine (IPC Phase 5) were issued in September 2022, governments and humanitarians responded with a significant scale-up in assistance that has thus far prevented the minimum thresholds for Famine (IPC Phase 5) from being met; however, food security outcomes remain very near the famine thresholds and high levels of acute malnutrition and hunger-related mortality, exacerbated by concurrent disease outbreaks, are still ongoing.”

Source: FEWS NET

In Ethiopia, the cost of the local food basket increased by more than 30% between January and June 2022. The increase in food prices across the region means that families cannot afford basic items and are forced to sell property and assets in exchange for food and other essential items.

According to WHO, the food crisis in the region is also a health crisis. In addition to severe malnutrition, which is a life-threatening condition, there is an increased risk of water-borne diseases due to limited safe drinking water, outbreaks of infectious diseases and decreased access to health services.

Impacts on women and children

As the crisis grows, families often face desperate choices, including marrying off their young girls. Marriage reduces the number of people requiring food and may help families obtain a dowry that will support the remainder of the family.

According to UNICEF, “Girls as young as 12 are being forced into child marriage … In the regions of Ethiopia worst affected by the drought, child marriage has on average more than doubled in the space of one year.” UNICEF says this includes marriage to men over 60 years old. This makes girls more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, including sexual assault and ongoing poverty.

Additionally, the rates of female genital mutilation have increased dramatically across the Horn of Africa. It increased as much as 27% in one region in Ethiopia.

According to the WFP, “1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women in drought-affected areas need nutritional support to ensure the health of themselves and their children.”

The risk of children dropping out of school has increased significantly in recent months. Across the Horn of Africa, 15 million children are out of school and another 3.3 million are at risk of dropping out of school due to the drought.

Due to the drought, women and girls are also walking further to obtain basic resources including water, making them more vulnerable to sexual violence. According to Save the Children, the drought in Somalia has led to the biggest movement of refugees into Kenya in over a decade. More than 20,000 Somalis, mostly women and children, arrived in 2022 so far.

A  two-track approach is required to respond to the urgency of the moment and invest in longer-term solutions.

  • The situation in the Horn of Africa is already an emergency; therefore, donors must act immediately by increasing funding for lifesaving assistance.
  • While funders respond to support immediate relief efforts, they should act with the same urgency to build resiliency at the same time and ultimately break the hunger cycle for at-risk communities in the region.

Food assistance

Immediate humanitarian assistance, including food and nutrition treatment programs, is urgently required to avert famine. If adequate funding is provided, it will help stave off the worst effects of the hunger crisis this year. A significant scale-up in assistance in the last quarter of 2022 has thus far prevented the minimum thresholds for Famine (IPC Phase 5) from being met, showing that urgent assistance can help. To ease the impact of the war in Ukraine, a deal between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN has allowed for the export of Ukrainian grain and other foodstuffs. However, systemic change is needed, and funds are needed to strengthen resilience.

In 2011, delayed action by the international community led to 260,000 deaths in the famine in Somalia. It is critical that funders act quickly to support emergency, recovery and resilience programming to save lives and strengthen affected communities.

Livelihood support

Improving livelihoods and building resilience are critical. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Banadir, Somalia “experience low household food consumption due to high food prices, loss of livelihood assets due to displacement from their areas of origin, and high malnutrition rates, especially among children. On average, the IDPs spend 60 to 80 per cent of their earnings on food.”

In their statement on Sept. 5, the Principles of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Famine in Somalia called for donors to provide immediate, flexible funding to enable humanitarian agencies to “rapidly scale up and prevent more deaths, protect livelihoods and avert a deepening catastrophe.”

As part of their two-track approach, the WFP in 2023 will focus on life-saving assistance and invest in livelihoods, food systems and climate resilience so that families, markets and communities make resilience gains and create pathways for sustainable recovery.

Livelihood support may include restoring lost livelihoods, diversifying livelihoods, introducing drought-resistant crops and supporting local market development. The FAO says saving livelihoods saves lives, “but livelihood support is disproportionately underfunded and every USD 1 spent on protecting rural livelihoods can save USD 10 spent on food-related humanitarian assistance later on.”

Cash assistance

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash both as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Providing direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash assistance can also help move families faster towards rebuilding their lives.

In response to the global food crisis, the WFP says that cash provides the opportunity to save and change lives by putting people in charge of buying the essential goods and services they need. The agency is sending money to people in drought hotspots to spend on essentials like livestock while keeping the money in-country and circulating in the local economy.

The CDP Global Hunger Crisis Fund focuses on preventing and addressing hunger and malnutrition, building resilience to drought and food insecurity, and supporting longer-term solutions. CDP is tracking organizations that are responding. We are also in contact with and can grant to organizations that are not 501(c)3 entities.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a gift to the CDP Global Hunger Crisis Fund, please contact development.

(Photo: An internally displaced woman in Somalia receives food. Credit: Karel Prinsloo, WFP via Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0)


Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working in this crisis to

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help in this crisis, please email

Philanthropic and government support

CDP made several grants through its Global Recovery Fund in 2022, including:

  • $250,000 to Concern Worldwide to improve resilience capacities among vulnerable households to respond to and cope with the effects of the current drought and future climatic shocks in Turkana County, Kenya.
  • $750,000 to Mercy Corps to respond to the devastating socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 and the compounding effects of the severe drought in the Horn of Africa, which has led to a food security crisis and potential famine early warning in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
  • $109,471 to Adeso to implement a Survivor and Community Led Response approach in highly food insecure regions of Somalia, through issuing small grants to community-identified and community-led projects.
  • $500,000 to International Rescue Committee to build community and local institutions’ resilience against recurring disasters and food insecurity by improving the capacities of drought and conflict-affected smallholder farmer households (especially women and youth), communities and their institutions to respond to and proactively mitigate disaster risks and adapt to long-term trends of food insecurity.

American Jewish World Service provided a $50,000 grant in 2018 to Universal Intervention and Development Organization to provide humanitarian services and food security support to Unity State, South Sudan communities that have been acutely impacted by conflict and famine.

Given the widespread geography and complexity of the crisis, there are a number of government/United Nations resources and appeals that will be used to both gather and disburse aid.

According to the United Nations Global Compact and UNOCHA’s Business Brief on Horn of Africa Drought:

“Financial contributions to reputable aid organizations and coordinated response funds are one of the most valuable and effective forms of response in humanitarian emergencies. Country-level consolidated appeals are the main way to fund the collective humanitarian response to the Horn of Africa drought.”

On Nov. 3, UNOCHA launched a new allocation of $17 million from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund to provide immediate assistance to communities in areas at highest risk of famine.

On Jan. 29, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced that the U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing more than $41 million in urgently needed assistance for the people of Somalia. This is in addition to $411 million in USAID assistance delivered in December, bringing the U.S. government’s contribution to more than $1.3 billion since the start of Fiscal Year 2022.

On Sept. 21, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced more than $151 million in additional funding for programs in Somalia. The new figure includes $146.5 million in emergency funding and nearly $5 million in early recovery, risk reduction, and resilience funding. In Fiscal Year 2022, the U.S. provided more than $1.4 billion to respond to humanitarian needs in Ethiopia. The USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance has provided more than $315 million in Fiscal Year 2022 to respond to humanitarian needs in Kenya.

More ways to help

As with most disasters, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover and improve their situation without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible and funding will be needed for recovery efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not: Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or marginalized populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities. The Council on Foundations provides legal resources through its Country Notes (some components are members-only).


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Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.



According to the United Nations’ definition, a “famine” has taken hold when: at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages; more than two people in 10,000 are dying each day (from both lack of food and reduced immunity to disease); and more than 30 percent of the population is experiencing acute malnutrition. 



Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.