A devastating drought sweeps across East Africa

17th March 2023

This Red Nose Day, Comic Relief is shining a spotlight on the severe drought and hunger crisis sweeping across vast areas of East Africa.

Parts of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are currently experiencing their worst drought in recent history. Five failed rainy seasons has decimated crops and the lack of food and water has killed livestock, forcing communities to leave their homes in order to survive.

More than 28 million people are in urgent need of help.

"I'd say this is the worst," said Dr Aweis Olow Hassan, who provides special care to severely malnourished children at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. "We are seeing mothers coming from far regions. Some of them are coming from more than 500 kilometres because of the drought."

Comic Relief's central vision is to alleviate the effects of poverty and bring about a more just world for all. And we have a long history of supporting communities in this part of the world. The very first Red Nose Day in 1988 was held in response to the famine in Ethiopia that claimed 1 million lives.

The famine-like conditions that communities are living through is not something we are hearing much about on the news right now. So this Red Nose Day we want to use Comic Relief's unique platform to bring attention to this issue.

We are partnering with Concern Worldwide, through a £500,000 grant to reach some of the most vulnerable families in Kenya and Somalia right now. The money will ensure food, water and healthcare reaches those who need it most. And help Concern Worldwide to work with those communities to improve irrigation systems and dig wells and boreholes as they rebuild their lives.  


Ayaan is pictured here with her youngest child, 17-month-old Nasriin Maxamed at their home in Somaliland. The family is supported in part by Concern’s programme that provides clean water and sanitation, critical health services, and cash transfers for people who are struggling to get by.

Before the drought, Ayaan and her husband had 35 goats and five sheep. Now they have just 11 goats – the rest of the livestock have died from the lack of food and water. Ayaan and her family sold the goat milk, but now they have no income and Ayaan is worried:

“Everything has doubled in price. The food price has gone up. Tomatoes which we used to make sauce with. Meat as well.”

“When you see the children don’t have enough to eat you are worried and stressed... Maybe they go to the jerrycan and they find no water. They start crying as they are thirsty and have an empty stomach. They don’t understand the situation.”

There are lots of reasons why this is happening. Climate change means the region’s been hit by the worst drought in 40 years. And with food already scarce, the situation has been made worse by local conflicts. On top of that, the war in Ukraine has pushed up the price of food, for everyone.

There is some incredible locally-led work happening already to make farming sustainable and support communities in the face of this climate-induced emergency. But it's just not enough. Comic Relief and Concern Worldwide passionately believe that the more attention we can draw to this, the more likely it is the international community will be moved to help too.

The words Sir Lenny Henry said all those years ago still ring true: “Forget geography, these are your neighbours”.