Media CenterWith the Lean Season Looming, CRS Sounds the Alarm Over East Africa Hunger Crisis

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS

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Carlos Barrio
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
+34 644 154 497

Nikki Gamer
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
(978) 884-0003

NAIROBI, KENYA, May 2, 2022 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staff are growing increasingly alarmed by worsening food insecurity across East Africa, where the most devastating drought in 40 years, coupled with record-high inflation driven by the war in Ukraine, has left tens of millions of people in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

“What we’re seeing is a cascading crisis that gets worse by the day,” said Margaret Kahiga, who runs a food security project for CRS in Northern Kenya. “This is a once-in-a-generation emergency. Imagine an entire community without any men because all the men had migrated in search of literally greener pastures. This is our reality. Layers of calamity have left people, many of them children, without access to food or water. If the international community doesn’t respond accordingly, catastrophe awaits, including potential conflict over food, water and other resources.”

Successive years of multi-season drought have weakened an already vulnerable population in a region where most people make a living within the agricultural sector. According to the United Nations, some 15 million people, about twice the population of New Jersey, are acutely food insecure, including 2 million children who are near starvation. CRS staff worry that these numbers could quickly escalate with the onset of the coming lean season.

“We’re already seeing families take desperate measures to survive, like selling off all their assets and fleeing home in search of food, water and pasture. And the ones that can leave are the lucky ones,” Kahiga said. “It’s the sick and elderly who get left behind.”

In Kenya alone, more than 1.5 million livestock have died from the drought—accounting for 10% of all livestock in certain areas. Meanwhile, an increasing number of surviving animals are severely malnourished and emaciated—a stunning reality for communities where losing livestock is the equivalent of going bankrupt.

“In a pastoralist economy, such a large number of cattle dying is like having both the income source and the savings of thousands of families wiped out,” said Zemede Zewdie, CRS’ country representative for Ethiopia. Zewdie noted that in some areas, conflicts over grazing lands and access to basic services are on the rise. “The drought will inevitably have long-term impacts on the country’s future.”

To make matters worse, the war in Ukraine has significantly disrupted global supply chains and inflated commodity prices, impacting millions of families in a region where people were already in need. In countries like Sudan, prices for food, fuel and fertilizer have doubled, and even tripled, in some cases. The urban poor are especially vulnerable to price hikes.

“The degree to which any of this translates to local markets is highly variable, and depends on government commodity market interventions,” cautioned Shaun Ferris, who leads CRS’ agriculture team in East Africa. “There are a lot of nuances. Countries like Ethiopia that rely heavily on imports from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus to meet food requirements are the most likely to face the worst impacts.”

In the meantime, the continued impacts of COVID-19 continue to add to the complexity of the overall crisis.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still with us. And after two years of lost business opportunities, many businesses have become insolvent and are struggling to pay off debts, especially businesses within the informal sector,” Ferris said.

CRS has an enormous presence in East Africa, including large multi-sectoral programs in Kenya and Ethiopia. CRS’ food security programming in the region includes food distributions, cash assistance to vulnerable families, and farmer training and support. According to Ferris, the work of organizations like CRS will be especially vital in the months to come.

“Nobody quite knows when prices will reach their peak, but we do know that the peak is not here yet. A lot will depend on how long the Ukraine war goes on for,” Ferris said. “The good news is that organizations like ours are promoting digitally-enabled cash transfers to enable people to buy food. We are also promoting sustainable production systems and more diversified farming methods to improve longer-term food security and markets. Farmers must have both food and income to survive.

These kinds of activities will be vital for East African farming communities over the next two growing seasons. My message to the international community then becomes: ‘Invest in these types of initiatives now, before it’s too late,’” Ferris continued.

CRS recently called on Congress and the Biden administration to provide more humanitarian funding to meet the growing global needs, including in East Africa.

“As an international leader, the U.S. must break the cycle of panic followed by neglect that we so often see after the initial onset of an emergency. While the war in Ukraine demands our attention, we must not forget the multiple looming hunger crises in places like Yemen, Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa,” CRS’ statement said.

To read more about CRS’ work on hunger, visit our Hunger Crisis Watch page.


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit or and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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Nikki Gamer

Senior Public Affairs Manager

Nikki Gamer
May 2, 2022

Based in Baltimore, MD

Nikki is the Senior Public Affairs Manager for CRS and connects journalists to regional stories and sources related to the agency’s life-saving development work. Previously, Nikki worked as the Communications Officer for the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. She has covered CRS’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the mass displacement...More