East Africa Crisis 2017 explained

22 September 2017

displaced family in south sudan

A family displaced by the ongoing conflict arrived in Yirol, South Sudan and receive food aid from CAFOD’s local Caritas aid workers, Caritas Rumbek.

Over 23 million people across South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are still in need of urgent food, clean water and healthcare. Thanks to your support we continue to respond to this emergency, reaching children and families most in need.

Latest update on how CAFOD is responding in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia


In February, the Kenyan government declared drought a national disaster, affecting more than 2 million people in the north of the country.

We are working with our long standing local Caritas agencies to get food, nutrition and healthcare, water and sanitation, delivered in the counties of Isiolo and Marsabit.

In Isiolo, in the Daaba community, we are reaching 1,200 vulnerable families with food, consisting of rice, flour, cooking oil and beans.

A weekly mobile nutrition clinic targets women and malnourished children with nutrition pouches, vitamins and an assortment of medicines for coughs and fevers. They are also able to test for malaria, and if needed can put together a glucose drip for the weakest mothers and babies.

Father Stephen Murage, director of Caritas Isiolo says:

“We never give up, whether the fourth, fifth, sixth drought, we never give up. We can’t stand by and let people suffer. We must respond. Responding creates hope in people’s hearts. When people see Caritas they find the strength to carry on, to survive.”

Mary Nater, pours rice into a bowl before she starts sifting it at her home in Daaba village, Isiolo. CAFOD through Caritas Isiolo distributed food vouchers which villagers could redeem for foodstuff at the store.

Mary prepares to remove chaff from rice she has just bought by using a cash voucher.

Mary lives in Daaba village, Isiolo. She lost all her livestock to the drought. She received food vouchers from CAFOD's  local aid workers, Caritas Isiolo. "I send my greetings and thank you to all who are helping Caritas Isiolo to reach us. We are far away, but your hearts are close to ours. This makes me feel happy, because we are not forgotten."


Our local Caritas aid workers, on the front line of this crisis, will reach 30,750 people in Samburu, Isiolo and Marsabit counties with food, clean water and sanitation, and healthcare.

In 2016, the long rains (March-April-May) performed poorly and the short rains (October – December) failed. The communities in the north of the country are primarily pastoralists: nomadic and semi-nomadic herders who rely entirely on their cattle and livestock as a means of maintaining a sustainable way of life and living. They depend on the two rainy seasons and when they fail, the effects can be catastrophic as they lose cattle and valuable pastures to drought.

Please pray for those affected by the East Africa Crisis

South Sudan

Millions of vulnerable families desperately need food, as famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan: the world’s newest nation is in the grip of a devastating humanitarian crisis.

In Unity State, 100,000 people face starvation and fears are growing that more vulnerable families in other parts of the country are on the brink of famine.

In Yirol in central South Sudan, we are getting food and essential items to people most in need.

Our local Caritas aid workers from Caritas Rumbek are reaching 25,200 people with emergency food – beans, sorghum, salt, and cooking oil, in four areas (Payams) – Adior, Pagarau, Malek and Lekakudu. We are also providing seeds for planting, with staple crops and vegetables, along with the basic farming tools, to allow families to feed themselves once the harvest is due. For 1,500 families living along the river, we have provided fishing lines and nets to allow them to add to their own food, and potentially provide an income for themselves.

Mary and her daughters fled conflict, with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.  When they first arrived in Yirol, they ate leaves and raw fruit. Mary and her family have been supported with food aid from CAFOD's local Caritas agency, Caritas Rumbek.

Mary pounds sorghum to prepare a meal for her family.

Mary and her daughters fled conflict, with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.  When they first arrived in Yirol, they ate leaves and raw fruit. She has been supported with food aid from local Caritas agency, Caritas Rumbek. "My children and I will pray for those who donated this food to us. With this food now I can get some peace and rest that my family has something to eat.”

As a cholera outbreak continues to spread, with new cases confirmed, there is grave concern regarding the potential spread of the disease as the rainy season arrives. WASH support – clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion is being rolled out. This involves latrine construction, fixing boreholes and training local mechanics to keep them operational, and the distribution of hygiene kits - containing essential items such as soap and dignity kits. We are also training 50 hygiene promotion volunteers from the Yirol community, to raise awareness and knowledge of how to stay healthy in a challenging environment.

Without homes and safety, nearly 5.5 million people across the country urgently need food and nutrition. As part of the Caritas network, with our sister agency Trócaire, we are already working with the local Church on the frontline of this crisis.


Failed autumn rains in 2016 and sporadic spring rains in 2017, have led to drought affecting 8.5 million people in the southern and south-eastern regions of Ethiopia – which has resulted in critical shortage of water and pasture in lowland pastoralist areas leading to a sharp deterioration in condition of livestock and livestock deaths in some places. For these communities, the loss or livestock means a loss of or decrease in milk production - often one of the only sources of protein for families.

Portrait of Agudo Gelgelo at her home at Dembi Village, Borana zone. Asa single parent Agundo found it very difficult to survive.

Agudo, from Dembi village in Borana, is a single parent, so was able to get by with the generosity of her community; but the devastating impact of the drought meant her neighbors were unable to help.

“Everyone has been affected with the drought. But single mothers like me are the most affected as we have to provide everything for the family. My husband passed away 20 years ago and the family relies solely on me."

Our Church and non-church partners are planning to reach 500,000 people with livestock support (fodder, water and veterinary services) cash transfers, access to clean water and sanitation, in the most drought affected areas in the south of the country.

Back-to-back seasons of poor or non-existent rainfall in 2015, exacerbated by the strongest El Niño phenomenon on record in the same year, led to the worst drought in decades in northern Ethiopia. The number of people in need of food sky-rocketed from 3 million at the beginning of 2015 to 10.2 million twelve months later in January 2016.
Our programme staff and local partners continue to respond where the needs are greatest with food, nutrition, water and sanitation.


Our two long standing sister agencies have been present in Somalia since 1992 and 2011 respectively, and responded to the devastating drought and food crisis of 2011.

Adeego Adan Hussein is assisted by hospital staff in feeding her daughter, Deeqa Ibrahim, with Plumpy Sup

Adeego is assisted by hospital staff in feeding her daughter, Deeqa, with Plumpy Sup. Photo by Amunga Eshuchi/Trocaire

Caritas is funding 25 projects that will help nearly 600,000 people in Somalia. Food security, health and nutrition are urgent priorities as the country struggles to deal with the impact of the drought. Caritas monitors and cares for malnutrition through its health centres, like at this Cholera Health Centre (picture), where Deeqa, Adeego daughter, is being enticed with a sachet of nutritious plumpy nut as part of the appetite test by hospital staff..

We are working hand in hand with Trócaire who have a strong, long-established presence in the Gedo region in southern Somalia. Together we are tackling a cholera outbreak in Gedo – with emergency medical assistance, treatment of affected water supplies to stop the spread of the disease, and supplying clean water to 2,250 vulnerable households (13,500 people). Our other partner is targeting a further 4,400 individuals with cash transfers to cover their immediate needs in food and water.

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Is the East Africa Crisis related to climate change?

Every day, we witness the effects of the changing climate on poor and vulnerable people around the world. Communities we work with are losing their crops due to erratic rainfall or warm temperatures, and families are struggling as water sources disappear. This makes communities more vulnerable to poor harvests and droughts, and has contributed to this food crisis.

In Pope Francis’s Encyclical – Laudato Si’, he speaks openly about the devastating effects of climate change on people and the planet. He says that climate change is real, urgent and it must be tackled. He also describes the climate as "a common good, belonging to all and meant for all".

Who are CAFOD’s partners in the East Africa Crisis?

We are working with a wide range of local Catholic and other partners in the worst-affected areas of South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

As a member of Caritas Internationalis - a confederation of more than 160 Catholic aid agencies across the globe – many of our sister agencies in the Caritas network, as well as our local partners, are already on the frontline providing vital aid to communities affected by hunger and drought.

How long have we been working in East Africa?

We have been working in East Africa since our foundation in 1962, providing emergency relief and long-term development projects to some of the poorest people in the world.

How much has the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and CAFOD’s East Africa Crisis Appeal raised?

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – a coalition of 13 leading UK aid agencies, of which CAFOD is a part – launched a joint appeal on Wednesday 15 March 2017.

To date, the DEC's East Africa Crisis Appeal has raised £60 million. This includes £10 million from the UK Government, through its Aid Match Fund. And CAFOD’s own East Africa Crisis Appeal has raised nearly £4 million.

Why are there droughts in East Africa so often?

In general, droughts are occurring in East Africa increasingly often. The region suffered from major droughts in 2011 and in 2009. Because droughts are happening with such frequency, people have very little time to rebuild their lives and livelihoods between each event. When there are rains, they are less predictable than in the past, making it harder for farmers to plan ahead.

The 2011 drought was a result of La Niña phenomenon: lower than normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean had serious effects on weather conditions around the world. In many areas of East Africa, the rains that usually fall from March to June were far less heavy than usual.

In 2017, the hunger crisis has been caused by severe and extreme weather shifts, part of the El Niño effect which has caused drought. In countries like South Sudan this has been exacerbated by conflict and economic collapse.

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