“Worst Food Crisis of the 21st Century” Driven by “Worst Drought in 60 Years” in East Africa, as Climate Change Makes Reduced Rainfall a “Chronic Problem”

“This is the worst food crisis of the 21st Century and we are seriously concerned that large numbers of lives could soon be lost.”

That’s from Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, who along with the Save The Children organization, is calling for $144 million in aid to malnourished East Africans. “Aid agencies are calling it the worst drought in 60 years,” reports ClimateWire/NYT.

“… drought remains a major threat with no likelihood of improvement until early 2012. Millions of people in danger from drought plaguing East Africa.”

A joint report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), World Food Program (WFP) and the UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) sounded the call for action on the dire social and environmental crisis:

“The cumulative effects of the failed October to December 2010 rains and the insignificant contribution of early 2011 rains means that food security in lowland and pastoral areas will be classified at emergency levels in the coming months until the next rainy season between October and December 2011.”

The epicentre of the drought has hit the poorest people in the region in an area straddling the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where families rely heavily on livestock for survival. In some parts of the region, up to 60 percent of their herds have already died while the remainder are either sick or dangerously underweight. The price of animals has plummeted by half while the cost of cereals has soared. In Somalia the price of a main staple sorghum has risen by a massive 240 percent since this time last year.

Their excellent infographic of the situation in Ethiopia and surrounding countries illustrates how the crisis has unfolded since 2010 [click to enlarge].

While the scope of the impending disaster is immense, it hasn’t been getting a lot of media coverage. The UN agencies monitoring the situation are trying to sound the alarm and create more awareness. The New York Times reports:

Normally taking the lead in coordinating relief efforts in such cases, OCHA has been joined in a chorus of warnings by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme. All five U.N. organizations are working overtime to bring more publicity to the worsening situation in a news cycle dominated by the Arab Spring.

In June FAO officials declared that the persistently lower-than-average levels of precipitation in the eastern most part of the African continent had become “a chronic feature for the region.” Kenyan government officials have blamed climate change on a recurrence of droughts that have led to blackouts in Nairobi and increased cross-border violence with neighboring Ethiopia as pastoral communities continually shift their herds in search of water and forage.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue — it’s a social justice issue. And the poorest among us will suffer the worst.

— Tyce Herrman

Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:


Sarkozy announces one billion euros aid to drought-hit farmers.

The worst drought since 1970 is pushing farmers into debt unless they slaughter their livestock.

Livestock producers have had to buy hay to feed their animals and some feed is to be imported.​node/95171

WAKE UP PEOPLE or we Die fighting for the last Food/Water.

July 5 at 8:25pm


China told to reduce food production or face ‘dire’ water levels.

Food must be imported and water use tightly regulated to protect dwindling supply, a leading groundwater expert has warned.​environment/2011/jun/28/ch​ina-food-waterJuly 5 at 8:31pm


Why do I have the impression that nobody really cares about the food chain? After all people are used to buy stuff from the supermarket. Yes, Humans are really that lame.

July 5 at 8:45pmDavid Metzger

Malnutrition Imperils Millions Across Africa.Millions of people are facing starvation due to rising food prices and drought across Africa’s horn and east coast.​deos/327519-malnutrition-i​mperils-millions-across-af​rica?autoplay=true

July 5 at 8:52pmRichard Brenne

Tyce — Another great post, thanks. Since you’ve worked on a great program in this part of the world maybe you can add some of your first-hand experience and observations about what climate change and drought means to these people’s lives.


Taking the long view, while your last sentence “the poorest among us will suffer the worst” is so sadly true, to wake the rest of us up one could also accurately say “The poorest among us will suffer first. When enough poor people finally revolt and also aren’t there to do the work the rich have depended on, ultimately the suffering of the rich will be the longest, include the most fear, the biggest fall and the worst violence. No one will escape these horrors unless we all work together to help everyone — especially the poorest — the best we can starting now.”

July 5 at 9:41pmAdrienne Richards

How can we help directly? I live green and am very aware of our global crises, but I would love to bring this specific crises to more people’s attention, I just don’t know how to tell people what they can do?

July 5 at 11:02pmMandy Henk

Adrienne, I’d recommend reading the book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. It’s a collection of essays with a few poems from a variety of authors including religious leaders, writers, and activists. The book should help you gain some perspective on what you can you do in your life and your community. Well worth the read. If your local library doesn’t have it ask them to buy it and use their interlibrary loan service to get a copy.

July 6 at 10:24am

John McCormick

Nairobi is 1.22 degrees south of the equator. We know the tropical zone is expanding. Read this press release of study in Science: As the tropical zone moves further south in the Southern Hemisphere, the southern jet stream moves with it. Hotter, drier land below. The famine in East Africa is chronic and will be the death of many millions. Its too late for them as we read reports on Inhofe’s respiratory problems and go back to our coffee and newspaper.

July 6 at 9:19amArt Jackson

Tar sands keep on pumping (pimping) and the US and China keep on buying…heads are buried in the tar…

July 6 at 10:13am


Summer just got started in the n hemisphere and I think it will be a long hot one. The 21st century just got started and I think it will be a long painful journey into just how bad the food and water crises can become. I’m just glad the militants in Somalia have finally agreed to accept aid.

July 6 at 2:46pmIrène Kumar

Yes Tyce, so true. Moreover, the poorest of the poor are not even responsible for their sufferings. We are!!! Can’t wait to see what my government will do to help!

July 6 at 8:58pmSonni Will

I think the earth wants us to leave.

July 6 at 9:13pm