Charities class East African famine as a major international emergency as 20 million people are in imminent danger of dying from starvation
Major aid agencies have united to launch an emergency appeal for funds to help nearly 20 million people in imminent danger of starvation in East Africa.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, which is made up of the 13 of the UK's biggest aid charities, comes together to launch an appeal only in the direst circumstances. The appeal means the charities, which include Save the Children, Oxfam and the British Red Cross, feel they desperpately need more funds to help save lives in East Africa.
Up to 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, are in immediate need of food, water and medical treatment due to the effects of drought and conflict, and are at risk of dying.
The UK government has vowed to match the first £5 million donated by the British public through the appeal.
Video: Somalia drought footage. (Credit: Save the Children)
“Hunger on a massive scale is looming across East Africa,” DEC chief executive, Saleh Saeed, said.
“More than 800,000 children under five are severely malnourished. Without urgent treatment, they are at risk of starving to death.
“We are hearing that families are so desperate for food that they are resorting to eating leaves to survive. This is something no family should have to endure.
“Unless we act now the number of deaths will drastically increase. Don’t delay – please donate.”
The DEC charities also include Islamic Aid, Concern Worldwide, CAFOD and the Tear Fund.
Most of these organisations are already on the ground delivering life-saving aid, such as food, treatment for malnutrition and clean drinking water.
However, they are now ready to scale-up their humanitarian support, but they need more funding to reach the millions of people in urgent need.
Fergus Conmee, head of Africa for CAFOD, was in South Sudan last month, which is perhaps the worst hit of the countries so far, and witnessed the famine taking hold.
He said: “I met a man called Santino Matwili. It was not until I went to shake his hand that I realised he was blind – due, he said, to extreme hunger. ‘Food has run out,’ he told me. ‘You cannot let us die.’
"’The hunger this year is very dangerous, far worse than previous years,’ he said. ‘We have not been able to grow food, as no rain has come.’ Now that civil war has displaced the family, they have nothing.
“Amid the rising needs elsewhere in the world, now is not the time for the international community to walk away from South Sudan, they must sit up and notice, and together we must do all that we can to save lives.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 3.4 million people – almost one in every three South Sudanese – have been forced to flee their homes since conflict between supporters of the president and vice-president broke out in Juba in December 2013.
Added to failed peace attempts, the region has been hit with chronic food shortages. All the grain has gone and it will be six months or more before any crops are ready, and then only if there is rain.
In Somalia problems are also worsening.
The drought is one of the worst in living memory and could be even more catastrophic than a 2011 famine which claimed thousands of lives. Livestock are dying, crops are failing and thousands of children are severely malnourished.
With poor rains expected this month, the situation is only set to get worse with around one million Somali children predicted to become malnourished this year, with almost 200,000 at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.
Quadruple Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah, an ambassador for Save the Children, who spent the early years of his life in Somalia, helped issue an appeal on behalf of the charity.
“I’m completely devastated – this shouldn’t be happening in 2017," he said.
"I was born in Somalia and it breaks my heart to hear stories of how families are suffering. We have to act now; millions of lives are at stake – and young children are especially vulnerable.
“As a father of four, it hurts to see children without food and water, but this is a reality being faced by parents in East Africa right now.
“I’m urging the generous British public to dig deep and donate whatever they can.”
Hassan Saadi Noor, Save the Children’s country director in Somalia, added: “What we’re seeing on the ground suggests we’re at a tipping point – a significant worsening of malnutrition cases tells us a famine isn't far off.
“We’re on the verge of a catastrophe similar to 2011 – or worse, as conditions now are markedly worse than in the lead-up to that event. A quarter of a million lives were needlessly lost then, and we know that action at this stage can make a difference. The international community must step up to ensure that tragic moment in history isn’t repeated."
Adverts for the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal will be shown on all major UK Broadcasters including BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky.
Money raised will support the efforts of DEC member charities to reach affected families and communities.
To donate visit dec.org.uk, call 0370 60 60 610 or text the word SUPPORT to 70000 to donate £5.