Hunger continues to plague Horn of Africa


A young mother feeds her baby supplemental food at a Nairobi feeding Center.  A UMNS photo by Chris Herlinger. A young mother feeds her baby supplemental food at a Nairobi feeding Center.  A UMNS photo by Chris Herlinger.

The food shortage in the Horn of Africa is so severe that much-needed assistance often arrives too late.

That was the fate of one family this fall in the Soona-Key camp for displaced persons in Mogadishu, Somalia. All of his seven children, the father sadly told UNICEF, had died from cold and hunger since arriving at the camp.

The stark realities of life and death in Somalia draw the most international attention, but what is happening in the Horn of Africa — affecting more than 13 million people — is a regional dilemma. The worst drought in 60 years, coupled with violence and attacks on refugees, has created new concerns over rising food prices and security issues.

Faith-based aid agencies, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service, are tending to the urgent need for food and water while promoting sustainable practices to end the cycle of hunger.

“Unsettled” is the way that Chris Herlinger, a CWS communicator, described Kenya during a November visit to the region.

Worries over the al-Shabaab Somali fighters continue, although most Kenyans support the government’s military action against the rebels, he said. But, he said, foremost in people’s thoughts was the rising cost of food.

Rising food prices

In an email to United Methodist News Service, Herlinger noted that “everyone I spoke to — in urban and rural areas, professionals and poor — was worried about food prices.

“A Catholic priest in a rural area south of Nairobi told me that he has people coming to him every day, asking for help, needing food. Personnel at a Nairobi feeding clinic told me they have had a substantial uptick over the past few months in the numbers of malnourished children requiring food supplements.”

Seven-year-old Habiba Hassan Nur, a refugee from Somalia, cooks a meal of beans in a new extension of the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance.Seven-year-old Habiba Hassan Nur, a refugee from Somalia, cooks a meal of beans in a new extension of the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance.

UMCOR has been funding various aid programs in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia since July. As of Nov. 11, the agency had raised $874,921.23 for Horn of Africa relief and approved $430,929 in grants.

Addressing this “prolonged, complex emergency” will require a lot of time and resources, says Melissa Crutchfield, who leads UMCOR’s international disaster response.

“While we are currently working to provide immediate relief to displaced persons and those with acute needs such as malnutrition, our focus moving forward will address some of the root causes of the drought and famine,” she noted. The emphasis will be on projects promoting sustainable agriculture, healthy livestock, climate-change adaptation and disaster-risk reduction.

Severe malnourishment

Although some progress has been made in Somalia, most children 5 and younger in camps for the displaced are severely malnourished. UMCOR has partnered with the International Blue Crescent to provide milk and vegetables to 1,000 such children in the Mogadishu area.

Muslim Aid, another partner, has had access in rebel-controlled areas of Somalia and has established three therapeutic feeding centers in the camps.

A Somali girl relishes a drink of water at the Dagahaley refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey. A Somali girl relishes a drink of water at the Dagahaley refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

The estimated 4.8 million struggling to survive in Ethiopia include some 120,000 Somalis who have crossed the border to Ethiopia and are living in crowded, under-resourced refugee camps in the community of Dollo Odo, according to UMCOR.

In Bokolomayo, a growing refugee camp with 38,000 inhabitants, UMCOR is working with International Orthodox Christian Charities and the ACT Alliance to provide food, latrines, water and education facilities.

Several projects in Kenya focus on clean water. With the help of UMCOR grants, GlobalMedic is providing local communities and some 500 refugee and internally displaced families with a year’s access to clean drinking water through Rainfresh water filters and Aquatabs water treatment tablets.

UMCOR contributions to Church World Service support food distribution and the Water For Life/Water For All programs for five communities in Mwingi, part of the agency’s disaster risk reduction initiatives in Kenya.

CWS has expanded emergency food distributions through local partners in Kenya's Eastern Province and also distributed drought-tolerant crop seeds in preparation for anticipated rains in October.

Supporting ACT Alliance partners

Through the ACT Alliance, CWS is supporting partner organizations in providing food, water and other emergency aid in many areas of Ethiopia and Somalia, including Somali refugee camps in Kenya.

How contributions are at work

Support for famine relief efforts by the United Methodist Committee on Relief has included:

  • A total of $60,000 to Church World Service to provide family food packages and a nutritional supplement for young children, along with support of water programs for five communities in Mwingi, Kenya.
  • $70,000 to International Blue Crescent, $71,004 to Muslim Aid for food and other assistance in Somalia and $20,000 to the ACT Alliance for assistance in Somalia.
  • A total of $70,000 to GlobalMedic to provide clean water to refugees and Kenyan communities hurt by the drought.
  • A $20,000 grant to the ACT Alliance for drought-related assistance in Ethiopia and another $20,000 to ACT and the International Orthodox Christian Charities to help build a school in the Bokolomayo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. 
  • A new $99,925 grant to International Relief and Development to ensure sustainable food and animal feed security in the area along the Genale-Dawa and Weyb riverbanks in Ethiopia.

The situation is not hopeless. UMCOR is continuing to seek donations for Horn of Africa famine relief.

Donna Derr, CWS director of development and humanitarian response, said ACT members will meet Nov. 21 to discuss current strategies for the Horn of Africa crisis and whether aid agencies need to extend food provisions, especially since urban centers are starting to show greater need.

“We’re looking at what may need to be continuations beyond what we had originally projected for assistance,” she said.

Her concern is that CWS has received “limited support” for the Horn of Africa emergency. In Kenya, although there has been “a great deal of support” for refugee camps in the north, very little has come in to respond to food shortages elsewhere or for Ethiopia, she reported.

Rising food costs are causing friction in urban neighborhoods, Herlinger said. “A thing as simple as visiting a neighbor is now tinged with suspicion or problems — ‘Is this person seeing me because she needs food or money or a loan?’ is a question people ask themselves,” he added.

Sammy Matua, a CWS staff person based in Nairobi who is helping coordinate the agency’s Kenya response, said the problems arise from the lack of “social capital,” or the accumulation of trust and relationships, in the urban areas.

“In a village, you can fall back on a social network, but here you lose your social capital,” Matua said. “A person’s social capital comes from the village and the relations there; but in coming to the city, people lose that.”

The result, he explained, is that people “look inward — ‘What is mine is mine alone,’ becomes the operating principle. There is no mutual trust.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or