Do they know it’s Christmas? The media are ignoring the crisis in East Africa.

As most of us prepare to enjoy Christmas with plenty to eat and drink our media are ignoring the dreadful fate of people in East Africa. The poorest and most vulnerable children on the planet are being killed in huge numbers by climate breakdown. We still listen to “Do they know it’s Christmas” on the radio, but where is today’s equivalent to Bob Geldof, alerting the world to what is happening, and where is today’s Live Aid, popularising giving for emergency aid for those in dire need?

Of course, it is necessary to report the rise of Omicron, Party Gate and Tory sleaze, and even the wonderful winners of Strictly. (We do need some good news.) But surely the media should devote some column inches to the biggest humanitarian disaster the planet is facing.

 More than 260,000 children aged under five may have died from extreme hunger or related diseases in East Africa since the start of the year, according to Save the Children.

Using data compiled by the UN, Save the Children evaluated mortality rates for untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition in children under five across eight countries in East Africa. Using a conservative estimate, the humanitarian aid agency discovered that about 262,500 acutely malnourished children may have died between January and November 2021.

East Africa is currently experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, with concurrent emergencies like drought and floods across the region leading to mass displacement and severe hunger. While communities in eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and parts of Ethiopia are reeling from successive drought, parts of South Sudan remain underwater after three years of unpredictable and excessive rains.

Health centre admissions of children suffering acute malnutrition have risen dramatically in 2021, with a 16% increase in the first half of this year from an already high baseline. Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin, with visible wasting of body tissue; or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin. Currently, less than half of acutely malnourished children (46%) across East Africa are being treated for the condition.


Akuol, the mother of 17-month-old Abdo in Bor, South Sudan, has struggled to get enough food for herself and her son. The delivery of the humanitarian supplies she usually relies on has recently been hampered by heavy rains’:

“There is nowhere I rest comfortably, no food (no grains, no oil) and the house we are living in is like living on the street. I have no one to turn to for help, sometimes I go and beg to people at the riverside and buy food to eat if I am lucky to get something. We have no food to eat, we wait for humanitarian support and when it is finished we stay without food. For the period that we are waiting for the next ratio (food distribution), we remain without food and that is how the situation is for us.

“There is food shortage because when it rains it is difficult for humanitarian food to be brought to us and distributed.”

Kijala Shako, Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for East and Southern Africa, said:

” In a year that saw the COVID-19 pandemic continue to wreck lives and economies, and conflict kill and displace thousands of families, it has been the impacts of the climate crisis that have ultimately taken the highest toll on children.

“At COP26 last month, high-income countries and historical emitters had the opportunity to support the development of funds to address rapidly escalating loss and damage. Unfortunately, they missed the boat. Today’s shocking figures tell the human story behind what we are calling for.

“Deaths from hunger are not inevitable and we have the tools, skills and experience to reach children and their families before it’s too late. Countries that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis must be supported for the damage that is already being done — that they themselves have played a very little part in creating. It is vital that we see the creation of a new climate finance mechanism for loss and damage by 2023. At the same time we also need to see a drastic reduction in fossil fuels to limit warming temperatures and reduce these kinds of disasters.”

Save the Children is calling on governments to fully fund humanitarian response plans, and support social protection schemes and health and nutrition services for children, including the treatment of acute malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition is linked to nearly half of all under-five deaths. In 2020, 149 million children were stunted (too short) and 45 million children were wasted (too thin). Without fast and decisive action from the global community, an additional 3.6 million children around the world will become stunted by 2022 and an additional 13.6 million children wasted because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And what of the future? Unless we reverse the ever-increasing temperatures on our planet by stopping the use of fossil fuels, it won’t just be East Africa experiencing hunger and starvation. Crop failures around the world will make food scarce everywhere.

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