The Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) is warning that mothers are desperately trying to find ways to feed their children as hunger looms across East Africa.
With 16 million people on the brink of starvation across South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, the DEC says mothers and children are being hit the hardest by the famine in East Africa.
Mothers are going without food as they give what little they have to their children. But with 800,000 children under five years old needing lifesaving treatment for acute malnutrition there just isn’t enough food to go around.
In South Sudan, women forced to leave their homes due to the conflict are now experiencing severe hunger. Vivianna, 33, her children, mother and pregnant sister fled their home when the fighting begun and settled in an abandoned village in Central Equitoria.
They fear that the armed men will return, but are too tired and hungry to walk to Uganda, where most of their community fled. Vivianna told Plan International UK, “We may die on the road due to hunger, especially my children.”
Malnourishment among pregnant and lactating women is another serious concern, with some 339,000 estimated to be acutely malnourished in South Sudan. In Somalia, 1.2 million children and pregnant and lactating mothers require supplementary feeding.
Many other women and children have left their homes behind and are travelling in search of food. Ifrah Mohammed, age 30, travelled to an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Bali Cabane, Somaliland. She told Action Aid: “We arrived here four months ago because there was no food or water. We had fifty camels but all our camels died. I am scared our children will die next, they are getting weaker.”
In Ethiopia, which is facing the worst drought in half a century, many people are having to walk days to get water, like Faduma, 32. She told an aid worker from Oxfam three of her children died from malnutrition. “They were less than one month old. First one child died, then two more. I was afraid. How can anyone be happy when they have lost three children? I couldn’t do anything. I have to accept it. I am worried about my children now. What will they eat?” Another mother, Bisharo, was feeding her 1 month old baby with water, as she was no longer able to breastfeed.
The DEC, made up of 13 leading UK aid agencies, launched an appeal in March. The appeal has already raised £17 million but more funding is urgently needed so that agencies can scale up their responses and reach more people, especially the most vulnerable women and children.
DEC member charities are already on the ground delivering life-saving aid. In Somalia, one-year-old Amina was being helped at a Red Cross nutrition centre. Her mother Ayan said her daughter had been ill ever since she was born: “She has never been well. I brought her here because of her sickness. Now she seems a bit better, she’s playful for the first time.”
Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn, who has given her support to the appeal, said:
The people of East Africa are in urgent need. The rains have failed; people have no food. Children’s suffering is unimaginable. Mothers search for dead seeds and grass. There is nothing else to eat. We desperately need to deliver aid.
If you’d like to help the mothers of East Africa, you can contribute to the DEC appeal here.