Understanding the East Africa Drought

As the East Africa drought continues to cause devastation across the Horn of Africa, we wanted to bring an update about how it’s affecting Compassion-assisted children and their families, and how Compassion is responding. Here’s what you need to know about this damaging and prolonged drought.

21 Aug, 2017


Understanding the East Africa Drought

Flora, 13, wakes at the crack of dawn as the sun peaks over the gloomy morning. She starts getting ready for school, taking care not to wake her five siblings who are asleep alongside their mother Zawadi on the floor of the single roomed house in Muyeye, Kenya. Flora momentarily soothes her rumbling stomach with a hot cup of strong tea and puts on her uniform.

Barely two hours later, Zawadi receives an urgent message from school that Flora has collapsed. A few of her classmates carry her to the edge of the playground and rush to call the teacher who administers first aid. When Flora regains consciousness, she describes her ordeal, amidst tears, “I struggled to concentrate in class all morning. By 9 o’clock, the hunger pangs were unbearable …”

What is the East Africa drought and why is it happening?

During the 2016 October to December season, rainfall dropped significantly across the East and Horn of Africa. Prior to this there had already been three consecutive years of diminished food production and pastoral resources. This sustained period had already severely decreased people’s capacity to absorb another food shortage and as a result, over 23 million people in this region are currently in need of food assistance. Conflict-ridden countries like South Sudan and Somalia are at risk of famine; South Sudan has already declared famine. If there are continued seasons of less than expected rain, the crisis will worsen, with the UN already labelling this ‘the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two’.

Are Compassion countries affected?

Currently the Compassion countries that are affected include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. These four countries have experienced lower agricultural yields and, as a result, higher food prices.

The drought is having an impact on Compassion-assisted families in these regions and many families have been left without reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food, and clean water. If the upcoming rain seasons don’t suffice, the drought will have a far-reaching effect on our church partners, especially those based in arid regions, and more intervention will be needed to sufficiently meet their needs.

Why is drought worse in some countries and not in others?

Sadly, the USAID predicts that 70 million people across 45 countries worldwide will require food assistance this year. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan and it continues to be high risk in three other countries—Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia.

These four countries are at increased risk mainly due to prolonged civil wars and conflict as well as currency depreciation contributing to very high staple food prices.

What’s the difference between ’famine’, ‘food insecurity’, and ‘food crisis’?

There are five phases of food insecurity, as defined by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the Unites Nations). They are:

  1. Minimal
  2. Stressed
  3. Crisis
  4. Emergency
  5. Famine

As you can see from the below map, currently Compassion countries are sitting between two and three, which is informing our global response to the crisis.

EastAfrica Map A

Compassion’s response to food security

Because Compassion’s program is delivered through the local church, our response is centred around supporting and resourcing the affected churches to best meet the long-term needs of their communities.

Our local church partners that are strategically located in some of the drought-prone areas are offering contextual interventions that enhance food security to children and their families.

During program days, children receive meals that mainly consist of local staple foods such as rice, beans, corn flour, sorghum, bananas, potatoes, beef, milk and a variety of vegetables. Also, school age children benefit from school-feeding programs instituted by government agencies.

East Africa Drought Meals in Kenya WEB

Our local church partners in these regions continue to identify families who are in high risk, and they’re providing additional food rations or supplements in the short-term. As well as this, they are instituting long-term measures such as education on farming methods that employ simple, yet modern technologies, micro-enterprises that diversify and increase income sources for families, as well as revolving funds which encourage caregivers to save and lend to each other at sustainable interest rates.

Church partners are also reaching out to local agencies to garner more support towards affected families in their respective communities and arranging rapid disaster assessments for areas where there’s potential need.


“When Flora fainted from weakness as a result of starvation, I was heartbroken,” Zawadi says struggling to keep back her tears. “That feeling of not being able to provide for your children makes me feel helpless.”

Recently, Zawadi’s family was among the 5000 beneficiaries from 50 Compassion-assisted churches that benefitted from a project that aimed to alleviate hunger among the children affected by the drought. Families received bags of rice, beans and maize meal flour; and a burden was lifted from their shoulders.

“The food relief has been very instrumental in protecting vulnerable children from hunger,” says Eva, a Compassion centre director in Muyeye. “It has offered them a well needed source of nutrition essential for the mental and physical development of young children. With a full stomach, the children can focus all their energies on learning at school.”

East Africa Drought food relief Kenya WEB

Ongoing measures to curb food insecurity

As consecutive seasons of drought scorch harvests and ruin livelihoods, it’s become increasingly important to empower children and their families through education and providing long-term practical interventions to help mitigate the effects of drought.

Families have benefited from certified seeds and modern farming technologies such as green houses that help to increase yield by reducing pests and diseases, while conserving available water for irrigation. Through Compassion’s Critical Needs funding like Water and Sanitation, churches have also been able to provide water tanks to households to increase water storage capacity, and build wells, sand dams, underground water tanks and water pans for rainwater harvesting that benefit not only the individual sponsored children, but also the communities around them.

Many families have benefitted from goats, sheep, chicken and other farm animals, which supplement daily dietary needs and offer income when sold as part of their income generation activities.

This response is in line with the World Food Program’s guidance; that quicker and more creative methods need to be employed to scale-up food and nutritional responses.

What does this mean for the child I sponsor?

Droughts bring about increased prices on staple foods. Women and children must walk longer distances to retrieve food and water. There’s less feed for cattle and livestock, which can also increase fighting in the region (such as in Northern Kenya). Above all, the lack of rains this last season has caused minimal yield of crops.

If your sponsored child is directly impacted through the drought you can be assured they will be benefiting from the food security measures currently being rolled out in local Compassion centres. And we will continue to bring you updates about how local church partners and families are affected.

East Africa Drought Flora Story 2 WEB

What can I do? How can I help?

Thankfully, none of our local church partners are in areas experiencing a level of drought that has categorised in the ‘emergency’ phase. And thanks to generous supporters, we have been able to use funding from Health, Where Most Needed and Water and Sanitation, to fund many of the initiatives described above to help families that are being affected.

We would ask you to stand with us in prayer, not just for the Compassion-affected countries, but for every nation currently facing this crisis.

If you would like to look at ways you can give directly to countries such as South Sudan or Somalia, you may like to check out the work of UNICEF.

And giving to any of our Critical Needs, particularly Where Most Needed, means we are well equipped on a global scale to deal with crises like this as they arise. Giving to this will fund initiatives that our church partners have identified as most critical at this time.

Sources: The Guardian, FEW NET, FAO, USAID, World Food Programme.

Words by Rebekah Wilesmith, Isaac Ogila and Compassion International. Photos by Isaac Ogila.


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