Why is there a food crisis in East Africa? | Plan International Skip to main content

Why is there a food crisis in East Africa?

East Africa is currently experiencing a food crisis and famine has been declared in South Sudan. Here's what you need to know about the emergency, its causes and Plan International's response.

Children receiving food in famine stricken South Sudan.
We're on the ground in South Sudan providing food, nutrition and livelihood support, as well as safeguarding vulnerable children.

Please Support Our East Africa Food Crisis Appeal Click for our quick-fire answers about the East Africa crisis and Plan International's emergency response. 

What’s happening in East Africa?

The food crisis is severely affecting countries including South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia, however, famine (the most severe form of food crisis) was declared in parts of South Sudan’s Unity State on 20 February.

More than 20 million people, including millions of children across South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, are in urgent need of food.

There is a need to step up the immediate humanitarian response to save lives and to prevent a catastrophe in the months ahead.

What has caused the famine in South Sudan?

The food crisis stems from 3 years of civil war in South Sudan, which has led to economic collapse and a rising cost of living. Tension and conflict have led millions to flee their homes.

Map and statistics for the South Sudan food crisis and famine.

Many have abandoned their farms - thus their means of providing for their families - as well as resulting in a fall in crop production and the death of livestock.

For example, thousands from the traditional food-basket state of Central Equatoria fled to neighbouring Uganda in July 2016, which has severely affected food production.

In addition, parts of the country have not had any rain for two years, which has intensified the crisis.

Is it worth sending money to these countries given concerns over corruption?

Plan International’s funds do not go to the government – we are independent and work in East Africa without political affiliations.

We have a Counter Fraud Unit dedicated to preventing, detecting and investigating fraud and are accountable to the people and organisations who generously support us.

We can assure anyone who donates to the appeal that their donation is being used to maximum effect.

Is aid getting through to those who need it?

Aid is getting through. Access is still restricted to South Sudan’s Unity State, where famine was declared in February, but that’s why we are calling for immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the state, alongside the UN and other humanitarian agencies.

We are committed to working night and day to ensure aid gets to the people who need it. (See ‘Plan International’s response,’ below).

Isn’t emergency aid just a short-term solution?

The reason we are supplying emergency aid to these countries is because right now, life-saving food, safe drinking water and shelter is what affected communities tell us they need the most. With more than 20 million people, including millions of children, in urgent need of food across South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, people are at risk of dying due to starvation and so the need for food, in particular, is profound and urgent.

Clean water project at school in South Sudan
Clean water project at a Plan International supported school in Yei municipality, South Sudan.

That said, we have been operating in each of the affected countries for some time now and continue to deliver longer-term interventions which help people to help themselves. In South Sudan for example, we are providing access to quality education including vocational training to ensure girls and boys affected by the crisis are able to continue their education and supplying equipment including agricultural tools and fishing kits to enable people to generate income through new livelihoods.

Have the problems in the region been caused by overpopulation?

The food crisis in East Africa did not come about because there are too many people living in the region but rather due to a complex combination of civil war, economic collapse and drought.

Families experiencing crisis try to cope as best as they can and work for the survival and physical and psychological well-being of their children.

Often, people having many children is linked to social and financial insecurity. Further, there are other factors such as lack of access to medical care such as birth control, cultural beliefs and lack of education. It is a universal trend that when levels of income go up the number of children go down.

People in the affected areas often have little say in the policies that affect their lives. Therefore, these families need help. Plan International and our partners work hard to support them with necessary life-saving assistance.

What is happening in Ethiopia and Kenya?

Ethiopia is facing the worst drought in decades. The country has experienced back-to-back seasons of poor or non-existent rainfall and the worst El Niño on record in 2016. As a result, more than 300,000 children will become severely acutely malnourished in 2017.*

Northern and coastal parts of Kenya are currently reeling from recurrent droughts resulting in people fleeing their homes in search of food and water. 1.1 million children are food insecure, while more than 100,000 children under 5 are in need of treatment for severe malnutrition.*

What is Plan International's crisis response?

Plan International is already on the ground delivering life-saving assistance in South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

In South Sudan, we are providing life-saving food, nutrition and livelihood interventions including agricultural tools and fishing kits. It’s our aim to ensure the most vulnerable children, especially girls, are protected from abuse through child protection and gender-based violence prevention and response services, as well as ensuring that children affected by the crisis are able to continue their education.

In Ethiopia, we are helping to tackle acute malnutrition among children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women in drought-affected communities. We are providing access to emergency water and contributing to the reduction of preventable livestock deaths through provision of emergency feeds and veterinary support.

In Kenya, we are providing access to safe drinking water, hygiene support and feeding programmes in schools and early childhood care centres to enable children to continue their education.


How can I help people in East Africa get access to food and water?

We need to act now to ensure we help thousands of children who do not have enough food to eat - before it’s too late.

Please donate to our East Africa Food Crisis appeal and share it with your networks.

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