East Africa: Horn of Africa Facing Unprecedented Food and Health Crisis

A Somali boy walks through an abandoned street in Mogadishu carrying fish caught fresh from the sea.

Geneva — The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $123.7 million to provide emergency aid for millions of people facing an unprecedented food and health crisis in the Horn of Africa.

U.N. aid agencies report more than 80 million people in the greater Horn of Africa are facing a level of hunger not seen in decades. They warn up to 20 million people, about half children, already are on the verge of starvation across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

WHO assistant director-general for emergencies response, Ibrahima Soce Fall says this acute food insecurity crisis also has triggered a health crisis in the region. He says malnutrition is soaring and disease outbreaks, including measles and cholera are increasing.

Speaking on a line from Dakar, Senegal, Fall says the important role health plays in the response to famine crises often goes underrecognized. Consequently, he says health care is less available just when people need it most.

"It is very unfortunate that people's access to healthcare is more restricted because they are on the move in search of food, water, and pasture and they may also have to make hard choices like between buying food and going to see a doctor."

Fall says WHO's multi-million-dollar appeal will be used to prop up the healthcare systems in seven affected countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

He says a focus of the appeal is to make sure severely malnourished children who are sick get the care they need.

"The level of vaccination has dropped off because of the insecurity, the displaced population. And, of course, the disruption of vaccination during the COVID pandemic. So, more children are at risk and are already dying. We are already in a health crisis. It is not only a nutrition crisis... The number of children dying from diseases. So, the situation is already catastrophic, and we need to act now."

Fall notes the competition for dwindling resources has become more intense since war broke out in Ukraine in February. However, he says it is not conscionable for international donors to just fund the crisis in Ukraine and not act to prevent people from dying from hunger and disease in the Horn of Africa.

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