East Africa: an urgent call to action

Chris Roles Managing Director, Age International 1st July 2022

Qabale Garbole Boru is 62 years old and lives in a village in Borena, Ethiopia. She has lost all the 70 cattle that she owned in the latest drought. Image: HelpAge International/Brook Admasu/AgeInternational

Lack of media coverage of the hunger crisis in East Africa is threatening lives. Older people are especially vulnerable. Chris Roles from Age International calls for the media to do more to report the crisis. 

East Africa is experiencing the worst drought it has seen in over 40 years. Over 20 million people are reported to be on the verge of starvation and in urgent need of food. However, what makes this tragedy even more serious is that not enough people know about it, and those that do are likely to know very little about the devastating impact this drought is having on older people. 

The fact that this is a largely unreported crisis means that not enough support is currently available for the millions that are fighting hard to survive each day. Organisations like ours are doing everything we can to provide urgent relief right now to the people who need it most, but there is no doubt that this crisis needs more awareness and more support from the UK’s media to help us get the message out there. 

Media coverage makes a difference

We know from our previous humanitarian aid appeals how generous the UK public is and we know if more people knew just how dire this situation is for millions of East Africans right now then more could be done. 

Age International is already responding to support older people affected by this hunger crisis. Through our partner, HelpAge International, we are on the ground in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya, distributing emergency food parcels and food vouchers and also giving seeds and livestock to the families of older people so that they can re-establish their farms and crops.

We need to do more of this though, and it needs to be done urgently, so that older people and their families don’t starve and so they can have a chance at saving their entire livelihoods.  This is why, along with other humanitarian organisations, we need the media to help us to raise more awareness of this life-threatening drought so that the global community can act with much greater urgency and at a much greater scale to prevent further loss of life.

Older people say this is the worst drought in living memory

At Age International, we are especially concerned about the older people living through this right now. Although they have experienced many droughts in their lifetimes, they report that this is the worst one yet, with this year’s rainy season the driest on record. For the millions of older cattle farmers, the dry period has devastated their livelihoods. 

Not only that, but the global increases in fuel, food and fertiliser costs caused by the Ukraine conflict and COVID-19 pandemic have compounded the crisis. In Ethiopia 92% of older people do not have access to enough food, whilst in South Sudan and Kenya almost three quarters (73%) of older people are struggling to access enough food. 

Not enough is known about the large number of older people that have been left behind by their adult children who have left to seek other income. Most older people don’t have the strength to migrate with their remaining cattle and now need to feed their grandchildren whilst barely being able to feed themselves. Many were completely dependent on their cattle for their food and livelihoods, but now they have nothing.

Whilst the scale of the drought means this crisis is unprecedented, it has thus far seen little media attention. There is a slowly growing acknowledgement in media coverage about how the conflict in Ukraine is disrupting food supplies and also how global price rises are affecting the response to the hunger crisis in East Africa, but much more urgent action is needed to prevent even greater levels of starvation.

Chris Roles is Managing Director at Age International.

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