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East Africa cannot wait: Joint letter to the new Prime Minister

21 September 2022

With over 30,000 signatures so far, we’re demanding action from the new Prime Minister as the hunger crisis escalates across East Africa.

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to welcome you to your new role and hope you are doing well despite the sad events of the last couple of weeks. We wish to share with you a petition so far signed by over 30,000 of our supporters calling for you to make addressing the looming famine in East Africa a top priority in your government’s foreign policy agenda. We urge you to take action now, and at the upcoming UN General Assembly.

The rising costs of food and fuel globally is driving millions deeper into poverty, both at home and abroad. Nowhere is this being felt more acutely than in Eastern Africa where 50 million people are being pushed towards starvation. In Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia alone, on average one person is dying every 48 seconds from hunger. The number of people at risk is surging due to a devastating drought following an unprecedented four failed rainy seasons in a row.

Despite this crisis being forewarned as early as last year, the international community has not stepped up adequately, including failing to invest at scale in the early action needed to prevent people being forced to flee their homes and livelihoods. As a result, over 12 million people are now displaced. This is devastating for those affected, and generates immense costs to meet their food, shelter, protection and health needs. Preventing even more mass displacement requires action now. Tragically, given the growing effects of climate change, this will not be the last drought in the region, so as well as saving lives now, it is vital that investments are made now to stop crises like this from happening in future years.

It is critical that the UK Government and other international actors act immediately to prevent a massive loss of life, including through meeting the promises set out in the UK International Development Strategy on prevention of and response to humanitarian emergencies, and by restoring humanitarian ODA spending levels to those seen before the steep cuts to the aid budget. As frontline humanitarian agencies witnessing the direct impact of this crisis, we make these recommendations to the UK Government:

  1. Fund the humanitarian response now and invest in anticipatory action: Urgently disburse substantial new and additional funding for East Africa, in line with the UK’s response to the 2017 East Africa drought which helped save thousands of lives. Frontload funding now, rather than wait for the crisis to escalate. To date, cuts to the ODA budget and competing priorities have severely restricted the FCDO’s capacity to respond in East Africa. Failure to invest now in emergency response and in preventative measures will not only fail to support those in acute need now, but will fail to prevent future crises. Communities urgently need access to food, safe water, cash, healthcare and other lifesaving services – people’s lives now depend on it.

  2. Galvanise the international community to act now: The FCDO has invested effort recently in corralling new donors to support the response in East Africa. The UK’s own scaled up response will give this ask greater legitimacy. The UK should also hold all G7 donors to account for upholding the commitments made in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact, including the commitment to act early under a ‘no regrets’ approach to prevent massive loss of life. The UK should further press for the World Bank and UN to mobilise tried and tested funding mechanisms which can get funds pledged to the crisis response directly and quickly to frontline responders. COP27 should also be leveraged as a key moment to rally increased support to the response in Eastern Africa; recognising the extent to which climate change is a major factor in the crisis.

In your new mandate as Prime Minister, you also have the opportunity to bring the political leadership and commitment of resources required to effectively realise your commitment to help women and girls affected by the hunger crisis. We further urge you to visit some of the most food insecure regions across East Africa with an accompanying media delegation, to help draw attention to the crisis and action needed from the global community.

Gone are the days when a crisis in one part of the world is felt solely by the communities nearby. Global problems require a global response. As set out in the UK led G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact, we must take a collective ‘no regrets’ approach to mitigating the East Africa hunger crisis. In the absence of a scaled up response we are looking at official famine declarations from October-December in parts of Somalia: this would be a collective failure. Whilst resources are constrained, you can use your new appointment as Prime Minister to take decisive action now to prevent catastrophic loss of life in the months to come.

Yours sincerely,

Jean-Michel Grand, Executive Director, Action Against Hunger UK
Bert R Smit, Chief Executive Officer, ADRA-UK
Alison Marshall, Chief Executive Officer, Age International
Christine Allen, Director, CAFOD
Eamon Cassidy, Interim CEO, Care International UK
Danny Harvey, Executive Director, Concern Worldwide UK
Michael McKean, Interim Executive Director, Mercy Corps
Martin Hartberg, UK Director, Norwegian Refugee Council
Romilly Greenhill, UK Director, The ONE Campaign
Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO, Oxfam
Rose Caldwell, CEO, Plan International UK
Gwen Hines, CEO, Save the Children UK
Nigel Harris, Chief Executive, Tearfund
Mark Sheard, CEO, World Vision UK
Juweria Ali, Trustee, Horn of Africa Foundation
Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, Danish Refugee Council