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Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis

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The Horn of Africa is a region of eastern Africa.

Definitions of the region vary; however, this disaster profile focuses on Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan due to the worsening humanitarian situation and acute food insecurity figures. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) also maintains disaster profiles for the Ethiopia Humanitarian Crisis and South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis.

After five consecutive failed and below-average rains, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa has expanded and deepened.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “The Greater Horn of Africa faces a convergence of increasingly recurring and intensifying climate crises, mainly drought and flooding, conflicts, disease outbreaks, and economic shocks. These, including the impact of El Niño conditions, are driving millions of people into displacement, acute food insecurity and malnutrition, public health emergencies, and destitution.”

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Climate Prediction and Applications Centre seasonal forecast for June to September 2024 shows an increased likelihood of above-normal rainfall over most parts of the Horn of Africa. Flooding was already observed across the region in April and May resulting in widespread displacement and destruction. For example, in Ethiopia, damages to infrastructure and agricultural lands due to floods raise concerns about worsened food insecurity.

(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)

In 2022, the United Nations (UN) and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) issued warnings of catastrophic hunger levels, but the warnings have been largely overlooked. The explosion in needs is outpacing the resources available.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a common scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and acute malnutrition. The scale includes five phases, with Phase 1 meaning there is no or minimal acute food insecurity and Phase 5 meaning famine has been reached. As of May 30, 2024, IPC and the Cadre Harmonisé recorded 150.89 million people in Phase 3 or worse.

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.

In 2011, delayed action by the international community led to 260,000 deaths in the famine in Somalia after only two failed rainy seasons. Targeted investments since then have made systems more resilient, which is one reason why it now requires more consecutive failed rainy seasons to reach famine. However, even resilient systems can only cope with so many shocks. Therefore, it remains critical that funders act quickly and pre-emptively to support emergency, recovery and resilience programming.

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Key facts
Conflict and violence

A key finding from the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Ecological Threat Report, released in November 2023, was that a 25% rise in food insecurity increases the risk of conflict by 36%. The report also found, “Ecological threats, such as rapid population growth, water risk and food insecurity will be compounded by climate change, causing mass displacement of people and conflict.”

In Somalia, conflict disrupts livelihoods, particularly in central and southern areas.

Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab has stepped up attacks in a show of resurgence since Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government launched an offensive against the group in August 2022.

ACLED records more than 205 political violence events and at least 539 reported fatalities from March 23 to April 19, 2024. Most political violence centered in the Lower Shabelle region, where al-Shabaab increased attacks targeting security forces. From Dec. 9, 2023 to Jan. 19, 2024, ACLED recorded almost 300 political violence events and nearly 726 reported fatalities.

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.

In Ethiopia, a peace deal signed by the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in November 2022 ended a brutal two-year war that displaced millions and created dire humanitarian conditions in the Tigray region. However, recovery and the resumption of services there will take time as conditions are exacerbated by volatile climate conditions and extended drought. For more, see our Ethiopia Humanitarian Crisis profile.

Humanitarian needs in South Sudan are persistent due to food insecurity, conflict, economic downturn, displacement, climatic shocks, including floods and droughts, and disease outbreaks.

Since the start of the conflict in Sudan on April 15, 2023, thousands have fled to neighboring South Sudan. One year on, 655,694 individuals arrived in South Sudan from Sudan as of April 30, with an average of about 1,800 people daily crossing into South Sudan.

The interconnection between climate, conflict and food security is more prominent in fragile or developing contexts. Logistic and security challenges often impede humanitarians’ access to affected people. State and non-state actors can obstruct access in the region. Some experts have called for greater emphasis on the root causes of conflicts and the need for greater international cooperation and support for “African solutions to African problems.”


The drought has led to mass displacement across the Horn of Africa. The floods have also contributed to displacement. Somalia is recovering from the 2023 rainy season, where flooding affected the districts of Jowhar, Balcad and the South West state, displacing 14,400 people and destroying crops.

In the first half of 2024, devastating floods in the region triggered widespread displacement, with hundreds of thousands displaced. As of early May, 637,000 people were affected, including 234,000 displaced as of May 3, 2024. The most marginalized populations are among the worst affected. In Kenya, nearly 20,000 people in the Dadaab refugee camps were displaced due to rising water levels.

According to the regional Migrant Response Plan (MRP) for the Horn of Africa to Yemen and Southern Africa 2024, migration originating in the Horn of Africa is “triggered by insecurity, environmental degradation, harsh climate conditions, public health, emergencies, socioeconomic drivers, and traditional seasonal factors.”

IOM calls it “the busiest and riskiest migration corridors in the world” due to hundreds of thousands of people traveling in an irregular manner, often relying on smugglers to facilitate movement along the Eastern Route through Djibouti and Southern Route through Kenya.

Through December 2023, IOM said although migration continues to be economically driven, more than half of migrants departing from the Somali region of Ethiopia were traveling due to disasters (58%). Concerns were also raised about the number of women, children and unaccompanied children migrating through the Horn of Africa. Most of the displaced in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are women and children.

The drought is expected to keep depleting the resources in host countries, limiting their ability to support migrants along the routes and driving more people to migrate irregularly. According to the 2024 Migrants Needs Overview, more than 1.7 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance in 2024.

Drought and climate shocks

In recent years, the Horn of Africa has been experiencing its worst drought in more than four decades. The March to May 2022 rainy season was the driest 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 scientific study published in April 2023 found that “as a result of human-induced climate change, the combination of low rainfall and high evapotranspiration as unusual as the recent conditions would not have led to drought at all in a 1.2°C cooler world.”

Across the region, drought and other weather extremes, economic shocks and conflict combine to produce devastating consequences for millions. The 2023 Global Report on Food Crises said, “The economic resilience of poor countries has dramatically decreased, and they now face extended recovery periods and less ability to cope with future shocks.”

The prolonged drought has damaged soil, making it challenging to absorb the rain to grow crops. Caroline Wainwright, a climate scientist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, said the flooding does not simply undo three years of drought. In advance of the anticipated El Niño-induced flooding, $15 million was released from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund in early October 2023 to support early action and response.

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

According to FEWS NET’s East Africa Food Security Outlook for March to May 2024, “In March, several parts of East Africa continue to face humanitarian crises characterized by widespread area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The elevated levels of acute food insecurity are primarily driven by the compounding impacts of protracted conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, and the historic 2020-2023 drought.”

Data from the IPC show more than 1.9 million people in Kenya will experience acute food insecurity through June 2024, while 4 million in Somalia and 5.78 million in South Sudan will experience acute food insecurity through March 2024. The same food insecurity classification system is not available in Ethiopia, and therefore the figures there are likely underestimated.

About 11 million people in Ethiopia are severely food insecure due to the drought, according to the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan. The 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ethiopia said, “Consecutive failed rainy seasons since 2020 have eroded livelihoods and worsened food insecurity and acute malnutrition.”

Source: FEWS NET

According to WHO, the food crisis in the region is also a health crisis. In addition to severe malnutrition, 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.

In Ethiopia and Somalia, agriculture employs 67% and 80% of people, respectively, and large portions of the region’s farmland are rain-fed. The drought and other extreme weather events continue to affect people’s livelihoods which in turn impact the food security situation.

More than 13.2 million livestock, which pastoralist families rely on for livelihoods, have already died across the region. In Kenya alone, the economic cost of livestock loss is estimated at more than $1.5 billion. Previous experience shows that it takes about five years for a pastoralist family to rebuild their herd after a drought.

In Somalia, the livestock sector is central to economic and cultural life. The Somalia Livestock Price Bulletin for January 2024 shows the prices for cattle, goats and camel’s milk to be higher in many locations compared to the previous year and the five-year average.

Impacts on women and children

According to UNOCHA, “Millions of children and women’s lives are at heightened risk of death and other long-term consequences due to high rates of malnutrition. Acute food insecurity, conflict, and a high prevalence of infectious diseases are contributing to high rates of malnutrition, aggravated by El Niño-induced flooding in 2023 and the lingering effects of the drought.”

In South Sudan, approximately 870,000 pregnant/lactating women are malnourished through at least June 2024. Around 1.7 million children in the country are malnourished.

While most migration through the region is done by men, women and children are also often forced to migrate. For example, according to IOM, even though the share of women and children migrating through Ethiopia remained similar between February 2024 (30%) and March 2024 (32%), the number of children increased by 40% and the number of women increased by 26%.

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.


A report from Education Cannot Wait published in June 2023 said, “Approximately 54% of crisis-affected children worldwide live in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced a multi-million increase in the number of children affected by crises, primarily driven by large-scale droughts in Eastern Africa and the increasing intensity of several conflicts.”

UNOCHA described the severity of the education crisis in the Horn of Africa in these terms: “An entire generation in the hardest-hit areas is being denied access to education due to the drought or the combined effects of drought and conflict, with devastating long-term intergenerational consequences for poverty, health and wellbeing.”

Investing in children’s education and strengthening educational opportunities is critical to mitigate such long-term consequences.

Food assistance

Immediate humanitarian assistance, including cash, food and nutrition treatment programs, is urgently required to mitigate the impact of the emergency and avert famine.

A significant scale-up in assistance in the last quarter of 2022 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 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. Oxfam and Save the Children published a report in May 2022 entitled “Dangerous Delay 2; The Cost of Inaction,” which finds that the world is once again failing to avert catastrophic hunger.

Some lessons from past droughts have been implemented, including an improvement in early warning systems, years of resilience investments and enhanced coordination. However, responses are still underfunded, and this is likely to persist. Challenges remain, including moving away from responding to acute shocks with lifesaving assistance to anticipating and preventing them.

Anticipatory action, which aims to act before the onset of a predictable shock, is growing in prominence. This early action is faster, more dignified and more cost-effective than traditional humanitarian response. Such pre-emptive humanitarian interventions can save lives and livelihoods. More flexible funding is needed, an opportunity for philanthropy, to adequately prepare for shocks and increase local resilience to hazards overall.

Livelihood support

Improving livelihoods and building resilience are critical. A joint statement from 15 meteorological and humanitarian agencies released on Feb. 16, 2023, says communities will need years to recover demonstrating the need for consistent and long-term investment. The statement said, “Recovery in cropping zones will also be a challenge, as households have little to no resources left to invest in planting and will require livelihood support to restart activities when favorable rains eventually come.”

Funders must act quickly to support emergency, recovery and resilience programming to save lives and strengthen affected communities. Often emphasis is placed on IPC Phase 4 and above, which are described as emergency and catastrophe/famine phases. Within these phases, humanitarian programming and government assistance help return people to lower phases, but only once assets are depleted and people have already died.

More focus is needed on IPC Phase 3 to prevent people from progressing to worsening phases that have catastrophic impacts on lives and livelihoods. Investments made in IPC Phase 3 are most cost effective and help strengthen resilience. Re-establishing assets and livelihoods once they are already lost requires significant time and resources.

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.”


The risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is amplified in crisis, conflict and forced displacement. In addition to sexual exploitation and abuse, protection risks stem from civilian deaths or injuries due to conflict, displacement and psychological trauma. Certain groups of people are disproportionately burdened by protection risks, including children, women and girls, older people, and people living with disabilities. Prevention of and response to violence against women, boys and girls is one of the most underfunded efforts in crises.

An advocacy note on South Sudan by the Protection Cluster and UN Refugee Agency published in May 2023 emphasizes “the urgent need for increased funding for protection analysis and programming, stand-alone protection activities, mine action programming, and food assistance in areas with critical protection incidents.”

The Global Protection Cluster provides information on active emergencies and resources. All humanitarian operations monitored by the cluster describe psychological/emotional abuse or inflicted distress among the affected populations.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

WASH humanitarian partners reported that before the current rainy season, nearly 25 million people could not access enough water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning or basic sanitation and hygiene across the Horn of Africa, including 10.1 million in Ethiopia, 8 million in Somalia and 6.8 million in Kenya.

Access to water is critical to supporting recovery and strengthening resilience. Examples include supporting water storage, rehabilitating water systems and increasing access to sanitation.

Despite improved rains in some parts of the region, drought persists. While the rains are welcome and provide some relief, flooding is a risk that increases the possibility of vector-borne and water-borne diseases at a time when cholera outbreaks in the three countries continue to expand.

According to UNOCHA in their key messages report for February 2024, “Multiple disease outbreaks, among them cholera, malaria, measles, and yellow fever, continue to pose a growing threat in the region, particularly in the context of acute food insecurity and malnutrition, and in overcrowded areas with limited access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, and poor living conditions.”

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.

CDP 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 toward 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 sends 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 have questions about donating to the CDP Global Hunger Crisis Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact

(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.

Philanthropic and government support

CDP made several grants through its Global Recovery Fund and Global Hunger Crisis Fund in 2022 and 2023, including:

  • $500,000 to Arid Lands Development Focus to provide recovery and build resilience to the hunger crisis in drought disaster-affected communities through accelerated adoption of Survivor and Community Led Response in 10 arid and semi-arid land counties in Kenya.
  • $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. In April 2023, CDP staff visited Turkana County to learn how the ongoing drought has exacerbated the hunger crisis and witnessed how this grant helped return barren fields to successful crop harvests. Another $475,000 grant was made to Concern Worldwide in 2023 to expand on this work in the region, including strengthening economic inclusion through the formation of village savings and loans associations.
  • $250,095 to NEXUS Consortium Somalia to improve household livelihood security and increase the ability to adapt and manage climate risks among drought-affected farmers from marginalized communities in Somalia’s Baardhere and Gabiley districts. Two local nongovernmental organizations will receive subgrants and this grant will also invest in the capacity of NEXUS Consortium by funding two positions and support costs.
  • $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 the 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.

Given the widespread geography and complexity of the crisis, several government/UN resources and appeals will be used to gather and disburse aid.

Humanitarian agencies called for full funding of the UN’s $7 billion appeal for the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, during a pledging conference in May 2023. However, the conference received pledges of only $2.4 billion.

USAID announced on Feb. 27, 2023, that it is providing more than $126 million in additional food assistance to Kenya “as ongoing drought leaves more than four million people in the grips of a dire hunger crisis.” As of Aug. 21, 2023, the U.S. government’s total humanitarian funding for the Horn of Africa response in fiscal year 2023 was $1.44 billion.

On May 24, 2023, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada, announced $58.1 million in funding for gender-responsive humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia and Somalia, bringing Canada’s total 2023 humanitarian assistance funding for the Horn of Africa to more than $73 million ($98 million CAD).

The European Union mobilized additional emergency humanitarian aid funding of $3.78 million (3.5 million EURO) on Nov. 29, 2023, in response to the devastating floods in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

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.