What You Need to Know About the East Africa Hunger Crisis

I was only seven, but I still remember how I felt in 1985 when I memorized every line of the song "We Are the World." I have very vivid memories sharing a snack with a friend that summer while talking as deeply as any elementary-aged child could about how there were children dying and that we needed to eat our freshly-picked cherry tomatoes with the idea of starvation in mind. My heart broke then for Ethiopia and the nearly million people who died because of the famine in those years and it's breaking now. 

Did you know that there is a famine happening in East Africa right now? Millions of people are experiencing unprecedented hunger and famine in Africa and it feels like no one is talking about it. No one. But for these mothers, these children, these families, it is important that you hear their cries. That you see them. That you know. 

Photo: ©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

This mother and children are trying to suck the marrow from the donkey bones that litter the landscape in their village. There is nothing to eat or drink and their last cow died in the night. Fathers have begun hunting for vulture and hyena-the animals that scavenge the bones from other animals. They dry the stomachs of the hyena to eat. The malnutrition rate has spiked and according to Nanaam Health Center nurse John Cheruiyot, "it's the highest I can remember." He says, "this is a very serious problem."

So today, I'm taking some time to share about the East Africa Hunger Crisis because so many of us don't know. And then, I want to tell you how you can help. I want to give you a chance to respond and share this so that other people can hear, because we need to do something to help these people.

Did you memorize "We Are the World" as a child too? Do you remember the first lines? The ones that say "there comes a time when we heed a certain call. When the world must come together as one. There are people dying, and it's time to lend a hand to life. The greatest gift of all." The time is now. 

What You Need to Know About the East Africa Hunger Crisis

Photo: ©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

The carcasses of dead animals line the road in south Turkana, Kenya. It's a cry for help from those who live there. Women are carrying dead animal carcasses and singing, “We are dying." There has been very little rain in Turkana, with drought cycles becoming more and more frequent. Livestock is an important aspect of Turkana culture who are pastoralists.

Where is this Famine Happening and who is affected?

More than 22 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation according to the UN. It's the largest crisis the world is facing since the UN was founded. People in South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are in urgent need as the food crisis worsens. Millions of those affected are children. Nearly 10 million children are no longer in school because of the crisis.

Photo: ©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

A girl cradles her sister as hospital staff measure malnutrition. On this day, World Vision supplied Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food to 50 severely malnourished children. The children are treated in order of who shows the most signs of ill health.

Why is This Famine Happening?

All of the areas are connected in the fact that they have experienced conflict, war and/or collapsing economies. Food was already scarce and expensive and now drought has exacerbated the hunger crisis. There is political instability and people are being forced to migrate into areas of conflict, putting children at risk of violence and abuse.

As people begin to leave to seek help, they also open themselves up to diseases like cholera, malaria and diarrhea from unsanitary living conditions as they already have weakened immune systems brought on by starvation. Young children are the most vulnerable since their bodies are still developing.

There are legitimate fears that this crisis will continue to spread to even more households due to a lethal combination of civil war, mass displacement and little to no food production.

Photo: ©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

This family (a grandmother and her two grandchildren 8 and 6) had gone three days without food, walking in high temperatures around 100 degrees. They had been on the road for four days, walking around 20 miles each day. “All of our animals are dead,” says Lopenyon the grandmother. The family used to have four cows, 100 goats, and 5 donkeys. Now they only have two donkeys since one of the donkeys died on this journey. Lopenyon carries a animal skin on her head. She uses it a shelter, an umbrella, and a mattress. “This is the most terrible drought,” she says. “We are hoping to find government relief,” she says. The family needs food, medicine and water.

Why Should We Help if Famine and Conflict Keep Happening?

There are many complex issues that play into a hunger crisis and unfortunately, they aren't easily fixed, nor are they black and white. No one will argue that many of these areas have corrupt, dysfunctional governments. As so often happens though, it is the innocent that are suffering. They did not cause the conflict, and they have little ability to influence the change needed to fix the problems. Those suffering the worst in crises like this are the most vulnerable. Instead of seeking to place blame, we should instead respond with mercy on the suffering.

What is Being Done?

I first learned of this issue not in the news, but from World Vision, an NGO on the ground responding to the crisis. Because World Vision is such a large, well known organization with a solid reputation, there was already a response happening in these areas. Since declaring this a global emergency in March of 2017, World Vision has been working across the region to bring food and nutrition services, clean water and sanitation and protection and care to the children that are affected. They are also working to help vulnerable children return to school.

Nutritionists are administering ready-to-use therapeutic food to malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers so that lives can be saved.

World Vision focuses on long-term solutions, but right now, lifesaving aid is needed. Long-term development programs can be put into place after the immediate hunger crisis is addressed. 

Photo: ©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

Held by her mother, baby Akusi, 9 months, is given Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) after staff find she is severely malnourished. Akusi has five siblings, including two sisters, Losike, 12, and Atoot, 11, who care for her when her mother forages for food. Lomukuny is a single mother. “My husband was killed by bandits,” she says. Cattle raiding is costing many lives in Turkana and around the region as people compete for scarce resources. “When I was pregnant, I had nothing to eat.” The family moved last year. They owned 5 cattle and 10 goats. “All our animals died of drought.” The family has become very weak. “You are hungry and then you are sick,” says Lomukuny. She is very frightened. The older girls sing a lullaby to their baby sister when she cries with hunger. “Your mother has traveled a long distance to find food. She’s going to come soon. Don’t cry.”

What Can You Do?

On Tuesday, June 20, I'm asking that you join me in fasting from breakfast until dinner in an attempt to stand in solidarity with those in East Africa that are experiencing hunger. I'll post a reminder on my blog with more information and items you can share on social media to help spread the word. {here is the blog post with resources} Sign up for my e-mail newsletter so you don't miss it

Share this image now on social media and personally invite a friend or two to join you. This crisis isn't getting the attention it needs to ensure that children and families don't face starvation right now.

Pray for the people who are hungry around the world, especially those in East Africa and pray for those hands that are feeding them. If you would like a prayer guide, you can find one here

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”
—Matthew 25:35 (NIV)

International aid is urgently needed so that humanitarian assistance can be provided. You can donate today and see your gift multiplied 7x's thanks to grant funds. Your donation can save lives and prevent the spread of famine.

Consider sponsoring a child in Kenya or Ethiopia so long-term change can be made AND immediate help can be given. Sponsorship is the most impactful way you can help fight poverty in a family and in a community. When you sponsor a child, you provide life-saving basics like nutritious food, healthcare, clean water, sanitation, education and more. You can be a part of a child's story and change their world for good.

Sponsor a child in Kenya
Sponsor a child in Ethiopia

In case you needed a reminder, here is the chorus of the song "We Are the World"
We are the world, we are the children. 
We are the ones who make a brighter day
so lets start giving

You have the power to help bring awareness to this crisis. You can help those who are starving. There are people praying for help and you could be the help they are praying for. Join me in fasting and share the word so that we can let these brothers and sisters in East Africa know that we see them. 

update: This is the blog post from Tuesday, June 20 with resources to share about the famine. And just in case you were wondering what Dr. Suess had to do with the East Africa famine, I'll tell you!

disclaimer: this post may have affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing through them, I may receive a small commission. These small purchases help me to continue to keep writing content and creating at Rachel Teodoro. Thank you!

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