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Horn of Africa food crisis - latest updates

Lifesaving UK government help for more than a million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


East Africa experienced a major humanitarian crisis in 2011 due to drought. Famine was declared in parts of Somalia, and hundreds of thousands of Somalis crossed the borders into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Over 13 million people were affected.

Britain has provided lifesaving aid for over 3.5 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, and played a leading role in the international response to the crisis. Although the international response has so far reached millions of people across the Horn of Africa, and the famine declarations have been lifted, serious concerns remain about the situation in Somalia.

Across the region, UK aid has delivered:

  • Food for more than 3.5 million people across drought-hit areas
  • Vaccinations for 1.3 million people against measles and 680,000 against polio to help prevent the spread of disease
  • Clean water and sanitation such as latrines, for 1.2 million people Emergency nutritional support for nearly 500,000 children and mothers
  • Seeds to plant for more than 200,000 people when conditions improve

Latest news

20 July 2012

One year on from famine, British aid saves millions of lives

British aid has fed 3.5 million people in the Horn of Africa in the past 12 months, according to latest figures released by Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell today. But others are still at risk one year on from the declaration of famine last summer.

Britain led the international response to the famine in Somalia and the food crisis across the Horn of Africa. The 3.5 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya who have been fed thanks to British aid includes 274,000 malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women while almost 2.5 million people in the region have received access to basic healthcare and immunisations with 1.3 million children vaccinated against measles.

Although the international response has so far reached millions of people across the Horn of Africa, serious concerns remain about the situation in Somalia. Exactly one year after famine was declared in parts of the eastern African country, the International Development Secretary warned 2.5 million people in the country region are still at risk of chronic food shortages.

23 February 2012

New aid for Somali refugees who fled famine and fighting

Britain will provide life-saving medical help, food and sanitation for hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees over the next three years.

The UK will provide a package of assistance including healthcare, nutritional and sanitation assistance for those forced to flee the food crisis and fighting, finding refuge in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

In Kenya, UK aid will help 150,000 refugees per year over the next three years. In Ethiopia, Britain will reach 100,000 refugees every year up to 2015.

In addition to helping those who have fled the country, the UK has also committed to further emergency humanitarian assistance which will help over 1 million people within Somalia over the next year. This includes vital supplies and services such as food, clean water, healthcare and seeds and fertilisers.

3 February 2012

Famine lifted in all areas of Somalia

Six months after declaring famine in the southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia the UN has today said that the famine has now lifted in all areas of Somalia.

In response to famine being lifted in all areas of Somalia, Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“British emergency aid in Somalia has quite literally helped save 750,000 lives since last year and our leadership in responding to the famine has made a huge difference.

“But 325,000 people, many of them children, are starving. The international community needs to keep up its support and all parties must allow unfettered humanitarian access as we continue to tackle this dreadful situation.”

UK aid is continuing to help those affected by the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

30 January 2012

World must address failure in Somalia

On a visit to Somalia, Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell warned that more must be done to tackle the underlying causes of instability in the country.

During the visit, Mr Mitchell announced new British support for health services and for weapons management.

Britain’s aid work is part of a wider international push to address Somalia’s long-standing decline.

Mr Mitchell warned that millions of Somalis remain in need and hundreds of thousands risk being dragged back into famine during the coming year if aid flows don’t continue, or if there is another shock.

Current UN estimates show that the regions that only recently came out of famine - Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle - remain on a knife-edge and could slip back this year.

The International Development Secretary announced a new aid package for Somalia for 2012, supplying food, medicine and farming support to over one million people.

Mr Mitchell said efforts aimed at gripping the issue had failed over the last two decades and a new, stronger international approach must be agreed at a high-level conference in London next month if the world is to tackle both the root causes and effects of the problems the country faces.

18 January 2012

Swift action critical in hunger crises

A new report from Save the Children and Oxfam underlines the need for swift action from the international community to prevent hunger crises reaching catastrophic levels.

Drawing on the experience of East Africa, the agencies highlight the need to act on early warnings as well as taking preventative measures to avoid hunger emergencies.

The report echoes Britain’s earlier calls for more countries to rapidly step up their support and follows the UK’s initiative in establishing a new Rapid Response Facility to help speed up funding in times of emergency.

The agencies also share the UK’s approach in working to avert disasters in the future by building up the abilities of poor countries to cope with food crises ahead.

Responding to the report, Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“Britain has led the world in tackling food insecurity in East Africa in the last year and we continue to urge others to prioritise this critical issue.

“British tax payers’ generous support has helped hundreds of thousands of people in dire need in the Horn of Africa and longer term British assistance in Ethiopia and Kenya has meant that millions more were not caught up in this terrible tragedy.”

22 December

Lifesaving aid for the Horn of Africa over Christmas

More than 9,000 tonnes of British-funded food supplies and lifesaving medicines will arrive in drought zones in the Horn of Africa over the Christmas period, Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced today.

Basic food supplies will feed some 800,000 people, as the latest figures show that up to 13 million people in the region will start 2012 in need of help.

The food – alongside vaccines and other medical supplies that will treat more than 75,000 refugees – are being flown and trucked into Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of Somalia from emergency stores across the world.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“Britain can be proud that we have got emergency aid to millions of people during the last six months.

“In many cases, this has been the difference between life and death.

“Millions across the region remain in danger and will face a fight for life in the New Year as they struggle to recover from the drought.

“But British aid is arriving as we speak so that families have enough to eat today and in the weeks ahead, providing hope that there can be a better future.”

14 December

Scarlett Johansson: This is a crisis like we’ve never seen before

Scarlett Johansson meets families in Turkana, Kenya. Picture: Andy Hall/Oxfam

Earlier this year, Oxfam ambassador Scarlett Johansson visited refugees in the Dadaab camp as well as those affected by the drought in Turkana, Kenya.

In this Eyewitness Report, she talks about what she saw and how support from UK aid and Oxfam is helping to protect the most vulnerable people whose livelihoods are dependent on the land. Commenting on her experience, she said:

“This is a crisis like we’ve never seen before. This is the worst drought in 60 years. It will affect over 13 million people across East Africa. You can’t even wrap your head around that number.

“It’s inspiring for me, to be able to really see the scope of what’s going on, to see the problems and the solutions first-hand.”

18 November

Aid begins to lift people out of famine in Somalia

Humanitarian aid is having a significant impact in Somalia, helping to halt the famine in three of the worst affected parts of the country, the UN said today.

According to the latest data from the UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit conditions have improved in the Bay, Bakool, and Lower Shabelle regions which have now been downgraded from famine zones.

However, the UN underlined the ongoing severity of the situation, saying the country continues to face the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with 4 million people in need of urgent assistance. A quarter of a million people still face imminent starvation.

Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said:

“Aid is getting through to people in Somalia and today’s figures show that we can make a difference when we take swift action - as Britain has done by feeding more than 250,000 people in the country.

“Today’s encouraging news must not be undone by complacency and much more effort is still required from the global community to tackle the severe hunger and malnutrition across Somalia.”

14 November

Premier League and DEC unite to tackle famine

At an event in Downing Street, the Premier League today backed the DEC East Africa crisis appeal as it announced a weekend of action at top flight football clubs across England.

Football supporters will be able to text a number displayed on advertising boards, in match-day programmes and on players’ training bibs to donate £5 to the appeal on the weekend of 26 November.

21 October

First insurance payouts help drought-hit herders to rebuild their lives

An innovative insurance scheme to help East African farmers recover from the devastating drought is making its first payouts today with the help of British aid.

The new programme will cushion the blow for animal herders in the Horn of Africa by providing payments to cover the loss of their cattle, goats, sheep and camels.

The UK aid funded initiative will compensate more than 600 insured herders in the Marsabit District of northern Kenya where some have lost a third of their animals.

20 October

Three months on: UK aid reaches millions of people in desperate need

British aid is feeding more than 2.4 million people in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, three months on from the official declaration of famine in Somalia.

The latest figures, released by Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell today, show the UK’s support is saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the region as the crisis continues.

In addition to the immediate response, British aid is working with some of the poorest people in East Africa to better cope with the impacts of drought in the years ahead, helping to prevent more widespread hunger in the future.

19 October

British aid helps to tackle disease in Somalia

The drought and famine have forced thousands of Somalis to come to the capital Mogadishu in search of food and water. Many are already malnourished when they arrive at the camps in the city. Due to overcrowding, the risk of disease in the camps is extremely high – especially for children.

UK aid is supporting UNICEF to help treat children suffering from cholera and acute diarrhoea and prevent further spread of disease.

16 October

Nick Clegg: together we can tackle hunger - a blog for World Food Day

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg helped bring more attention to the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa today, by posting an article for Blog Action Day.

In his guest post, the Deputy Prime Minister focussed on the impact UK aid is having in the region. He also called on the international community to adopt new approaches to tackling hunger and to help prevent famine in the future.

He joined Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell as well as staff bloggers from around the world who posted throughout the day. Blog Action Day is a yearly event that focuses bloggers around the world on one topic, for one day. Coinciding with World Food Day, the digital global gathering focussed on the fight against hunger.

20 September

UK urges more support for Somalia at UN talks

Long-awaited rains threaten to bring disease to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable families, bringing further misery to southern Somalia, Andrew Mitchell will warn the international community in New York today.

Speaking in advance of the UN General Assembly, Mr Mitchell said:

“October threatens to be the critical month in Somalia. In a bitter irony, the rains that are so desperately needed – and will help recovery in the long term - will bring disease that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, weakened by hunger.”

As concerns rise about the likely impact of disease on people in Somalia made weak and vulnerable by months of hunger, Britain is also supporting the vaccination of 1.3 million children against measles and 670,000 against polio.

15 September

Andrew Mitchell: more countries must ‘reach deeper into their pockets’

The International Development Secretary today called for more action and financial support from the international community in a cross-government debate.

The debate – which focussed on food security and famine prevention in the Horn of Africa – explored the wide range of factors contributing to the current problems faced in the region, including food security, investment in agriculture, food speculation and land use.

Mr Mitchell also focused on the need to tackle problems ‘upstream’. He used examples of British support in Ethiopia and Uganda to show how UK aid is building up each country’s ability to cope with food shortages and to prevent famine.

14 September

An eyewitness report from UK aid funded feeding centres

An on the ground report on the essential work being carried out at feeding centres in Ethiopia, by a member of DFID’s humanitarian response and preparedness group.

5 September

Andrew Mitchell: we must help avoid famine in the long run

As the UN declared that 750,000 people are at risk of starvation in Somalia today, Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell called for action to prevent famine in the future. In a written statement to Parliament, he said:

“The UK continues to be at the forefront of the world’s response

“Ultimately, we need to stop these crises happening. We cannot avoid droughts, but we can avoid famines. We are already investing in building the resilience of communities to shocks.

“In the long run, investing more effectively in reducing poverty and reinforcing resilience is not only better value for money than emergency relief, but will help those affected to break out of the cycle of disaster.”

17 August

Mitchell: 400,000 Somali children could starve. It’s a race against time

Up to 400,000 children are at risk of death through starvation if urgent action is not taken now, Andrew Mitchell said today on a visit to Mogadishu, Somalia - the first visit to the country by a UK government minister since 1992.

The International Development Secretary announced that Britain will supply vital aid, including extra food and medical supplies, to more than 800,000 women and children in Somalia, as figures show that half of those who have died during the famine in Somalia are children.

The UK’s new package of support to the UN organisation for children, UNICEF, will allow them to double the number of children they are reaching in their supplementary feeding programme. The £25m children’s package will provide:

  • up to 192,000 people with two months of supplementary rations
  • supplies to vaccinate at least 800,000 children against measles, plus 300,000 with polio vaccines, vitamin A and deworming
  • support to malaria preparedness, including provision of over 100,000 treated bednets, 50,000 malaria testing kits, and treatment capacity for 4,000 cases of malaria

Speaking in Mogadishu, Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“I came to Mogadishu today to see first-hand how Britain can best help people that have been hit by this devastating famine. Evidence of malnutrition is not just in the camps and feeding centres but on every street corner.

“The stark fact is that in southern Somalia the situation is deteriorating by the day. We could face deaths on a similar scale to those seen in 1991-2 if we do not act urgently now. This is a race against time.”

3 August

British aid reaches drought-stricken region

Planes and trucks carrying crucial British-backed aid have arrived in some of the most drought-stricken regions in the Horn of Africa, Andrew Mitchell announced today.

Aid flights have landed in Mogadishu and Baidoa, with further flights expected in the coming days, and lorry convoys are reaching Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and the Dolo Ado camp in Ethiopia.

Thousands of people in refugee camps in Kenya have now received crucial basic supplies such as tents and cooking equipment as well as vital medical supplies and safe drinking water.

25 July

Development Secretary Mitchell responds to UN emergency meeting

Responding to today’s UN Food and Agriculture Organization meeting in Rome on the Horn of Africa food crisis, the UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“The true test of today’s meeting will be the action that is taken on the ground rather than warm words spoken around a conference table.”

“The world must stop wringing its hands and get on with helping the millions of people in dire need in the Horn of Africa.”

25 July

UK and Australia call on governments to step up help and save lives

Britain’s Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd have called on the international community to do more in an effort to stop the crisis turning into a catastrophe.

In a joint statement, the ministers said:

“If we learn lessons from the past and act fast, we can save hundreds of thousands of lives.

“The United Nations estimates that this is the most severe food security challenge in Africa for 20 years. The extent of the crisis is daunting and the figures are so enormous that it is easy to forget that each number is a human life.

“The UN appeals are still underfunded by almost $1bn (£600m). Britain and Australia urge the rest of the world to join them to work to prevent this humanitarian disaster turning into a catastrophe.”

22 July

David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell meet with Somali community in UK

The Prime Minister and Development Secretary met members of the UK’s Somali community today to listen to their concerns about the famine.

Speaking with Somalis in Birmingham, they discussed the UK aid effort and what more could be done internationally to help those suffering in the region.

The Prime Minister said:

“Britain is leading the way. We have provided over £90 million of aid which will help over 2 million people in the region, providing them with much needed food, drinking water and shelter and today I’ve been talking to the Somali community about how we can ensure that aid reaches those that need it most.

“But much more is needed and that’s why I’m urging other European countries to match our generosity so we ensure all those affected get the help they need.”

20 July

UN declares famine in Somalia as UK steps up pressure on partners

The United Nations declared today that famine exists in the southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia. Across the country, nearly half of the Somali population – 3.7 million people – are in crisis, 2.8 million in the south alone.

Responding to the declaration, Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has promised to urge other nations to step up their efforts as Britain has done, with a particular focus on Somalia, where tens of thousands are at risk of dying.

Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said:

“In Somalia, men, women and children are dying of starvation. The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become.

“It is time for the world to help but sadly the response from many countries has been derisory and dangerously inadequate.

“Britain is playing its part, with help for more than two million people across the Horn of Africa. Now others must do the same.”

Speaking on his return from Africa, where he saw at first hand the appalling suffering and announced further British help for more than one million people, Mr Mitchell has pledged to lobby other donors tirelessly.

He will address a group of donors and aid agencies at the annual Tidewater meeting on Wednesday night. Over the past week, Britain has increased the pressure it is putting on other countries in an effort to secure more support for the crisis and ensure the people at risk receive much-needed food and help.

19 July

Kristin Davis gives an eyewitness account of conditions in Dadaab camp

Kristin Davis hears from families in the refugee camp. Picture: Andy Hall / Oxfam

Oxfam Ambassador and TV actress Kristin Davis has given a first hand account of her visit to the Kenyan refugee camp. Blogging about her experience she said:

“These people are the victims of a perfect storm of problems, coming together to create a crisis. I feel strongly that we must help these women and children with the basics of life – water, food, shelter.

“I have met people who want to work hard to support their families. I have never met anyone who wants a handout. We need long-term support of projects that bring change - that give the people in the world who are marginalised their own tools for food security.”

17 July

Andrew Mitchell reports from his visit to Dadaab and Wajir

Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, reports from Kenya, where, yesterday, he saw for himself the scale of the drought crisis and how British assistance is helping people in desperate need. He visited Dadaab refugee camp and the town of Wajir, northern Kenya with Brendan Gormley, head of the Disasters Emergency Committee and Justin Forsyth, head of Save the Children.

16 July

Lifesaving help for more than a million people across the Horn of Africa

The British Government will provide emergency assistance for more than one million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia as the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa worsens.

Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced the new package of support for drought victims ahead of a visit today to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

The emergency package will provide assistance to:

  • 500,000 people in Somalia, including treatment for nearly 70,000 acutely malnourished children
  • over 130,000 people in Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, including access to clean drinking water and health care for one third of refugees
  • over 100,000 people in Dolo Ado refugee camps in Ethiopia including access to shelter, clean drinking water and treatment for starving children
  • 300,000 Kenyans, including special rations to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of five and breastfeeding mothers Andrew Mitchell said:

“People across Britain have responded with great generosity to appeals by British NGOs working in the Horn of Africa. But the situation is getting worse – and is particularly devastating in Somalia, where families already have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world.

“More than 3,000 people every day are fleeing over the borders to Ethiopia and Kenya, many of them arriving with starving children. The international community must do more to help not only refugees but also those victims of the drought who remain in Somalia.”

8 July

Britain backs charity appeal for East Africa

Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell backed the launch of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal to help those hit by the food crisis. Announcing his support for the public drive, he said:

“Through no fault of its own, the Horn of Africa is experiencing a severe drought caused by the failed rains. The British Government is already providing vital food to help 1.3 million people - but more needs to be done and we are lobbying other governments to do their bit.

“We welcome the DEC appeal to help the 10 million men, women and children caught up in the crisis. British charities and organisations are on the ground and ready to help, but need this additional support to get emergency supplies to those in desperate need.”

7 July

Disasters Emergency Committee launch appeal

Today the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched a public appeal to help more than 10 million people affected by the food crisis.

The joint appeal brings together 14 of the UK’s major aid agencies to help tackle the crisis brought on by the worst drought the region has seen in years.

Recognising Britain’s backing, DEC stated:

“The UK has taken a lead among the world’s governments with a pledge of £38m to the World Food Programme of the UN, which will provide the food aid that many of the DEC’s members will be distributing.”

6 July

Andrew Mitchell updates Parliament on the crisis

Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell has briefed Members of Parliament on the British response to the food crisis. As the impacts deepen beyond Ethiopia and across the region, he stated:

“The UK has also provided strong support for Kenya and for Somalia in the last financial year, funding emergency nutrition, health, water and sanitation and livelihood support activities. We are rapidly looking at what additional support the UK should give in Somalia and Kenya.”

3 July

British aid battles starvation in Ethiopia

Britain will provide emergency food relief for 1.3 million people in Ethiopia as the region faces its worst drought in a decade, Andrew Mitchell said today.

The UK will fund the World Food Programme to provide emergency food for drought-stricken Ethiopians for the next three months to help them through the driest months of the year. Supplementary food will also be provided for 329,000 malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“Through no fault of its own, the Horn of Africa is experiencing a severe drought caused by the failed rains. Britain is acting quickly and decisively in Ethiopia to stop this crisis becoming a catastrophe. We will provide vital food to help 1.3 million people through the next three months.

“This situation needs an international response and Britain is calling on the international community to provide the fast, effective relief that Ethiopia needs now in this difficult time.”


The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing a major humanitarian crisis due to drought. More than 12 million people need emergency relief and the situation is likely to get worse before it improves when the next rains come.

This is the region’s worst drought since 1995. In some areas, 2010-2011 has been the driest period in 60 years. Soaring local and global food and fuel prices have made the situation worse. Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are the worst hit.

Britain is working with international agencies and charities on the ground to assess the need and ensure lifesaving help reaches those who are worst affected.

UK aid helps 8 million people with food and livestock in the region as part of our ongoing work. But the current crisis underlines the need for additional help now.

In response to the food crisis, Britain is providing lifesaving aid for more than three million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

In Ethiopia, UK aid will fund the World Food Programme to provide emergency food aid for 1.3 million drought-stricken people for the next three months to help them through the driest months of the year as well as providing support for 100,000 people in the Dolo Ado refugee camp.

In Kenya, Britain is supporting 200,000 people including lifesaving treatment for 90,000 malnourished children and 129,000 pregnant women and mothers. In addition, we are helping 300,000 refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp with access to safe water, food and basic health care.

In Somalia, the UK is providing relief assistance to 800,000 victims of the drought including food and nutritional assistance to 350,000 people, vaccinating 800,000 children for measles, 100,000 bednets to prevent malaria and livestock support or agricultural supplies (including seeds) to over 190,000 people.

Updates to this page

Published 20 July 2012