In the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa, ten million people were at risk of starvation in the worst drought conditions in 60 years in Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in search of water and food.

The statistics

  • The drought across the Horn of Africa affected 3.2 million people in Kenya, 3.7 million in Somalia, 3.2 million in Ethiopia and 117,000 in Djibouti.
  • The drought and resulting famine killed more than 29,000 children under the age of five in the first 90 days.
  • 6 per 10,000 children were dying each day in Somalia in 2011
  • There were over 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa during the recent famine
  • 3.2 million people in Somalia were in need of immediate life-saving assistance — almost half the population.
  • 1.46 million people were displaced within Somalia


The UN declares a famine when more than 30 percent of a population suffers from malnutrition, two people per 10,000 people are dying each day and when there is a severe lack of food access for large populations. The immediate causes of famine are inadequate food production, rising food prices, poverty and natural disasters like drought. The underlying causes of famine can be linked to widespread poverty among a population, unemployment, political instability and bad governance. Often the governments of famine-prone countries do not have the means with which to intervene to prevent famine.

During a famine victims suffer from severe malnutrition: children fail to grow and cannot learn in school, adults and children experience weight loss, lack of energy, and decreased work ability. Permanent blindness can result from vitamin A deficiency. Famine victims eventually die from common infectious illnesses such as measles, malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.


Emergency relief in the form of food, water, and medicine is critical to stabilizing communities hit by famine and minimizing the loss of life. Emergency relief will address issues of chronic malnutrition, inadequate drinking water, poor hygiene and sanitation, and related diseases.

However, long-term-term strategies are needed. Famine can be eradicated by building capacities within communities and helping them to establish and strengthen structures and systems that minimize the affects of drought and other natural disasters. It is important to give communities the skills and tools that will allow them to cope with drought situations and avoid food shortages..