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Climate crisis leaves 33 million at dangerous levels of hunger across East and Southern Africa

Save the Children, 2nd December 

33 million people – or 10% of the population across 10 countries in East and Southern Africa - at emergency levels of food insecurity or worse due to climate shocks1Over 16 million are believed to be children2


Photos and case studies are available here

  • New analysis from Save the Children shows over 1200 people lost their lives as a result of cyclones, floods and landslides in Mozambique, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Malawi3.
  • Southern Africa is warming at twice the global rate4 and many countries have been hit by multiple shocks, including Mozambique, which saw two strong cyclones in the same season for the first time in recorded history.


In Mozambique, an unprecedented two cyclones in six weeks left 502,000 people displaced and 1.6 million people severely food insecure.

2019 will be remembered as the year parts of east and southern Africa were devastated by floods, landslides, drought and cyclones, leaving at least 33 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity or worse, according to new analysis by Save the Children.

With high populations of children in the region – a total of 162 million under 18 year-olds across the 10 countries – Save the Children estimates these figures include over 16 million children now at crisis or emergency levels of hunger9.

In addition, at least 1,200 people were killed by cyclones, floods and landslides in Mozambique, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Malawi7. This figure does not include thousands of lives lost to drought, and Save the Children warns that soaring hunger levels over the past 12 months has contributed to further loss of life and malnutrition, particularly amongst infants.

By June 2019, the number of people forced to flee their homes as a result of climate shocks in the region was already the same as for the whole of 201813. Over half these displacements were the result of Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March 2019, and was followed six weeks later by Cyclone Kenneth – the first time in recorded history that the country had been hit by two strong tropical cyclones in the same season. The storms were the strongest cyclones ever to hit the African continent12.

A recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows increasing evidence that climate change is contributing to higher temperatures in the region, and that these temperatures are exacerbating the impacts of drought and flooding5.

These climate shocks decimate livelihoods, leaving households desperate for food and putting children at risk of acute malnutrition. Large-scale  displacement has left children vulnerable to exploitation, separation from their families and school drop-out. Children also bear close to 90 per cent of the burden of disease attributable to climate change, such as malaria and dengue fever6.

Thirteen-year-old Amran’s home was flooded when the banks of the Shabelle River broke in Beledweyne, Somalia. Amran is now living in a tent with her parents and three siblings. She said: “I was very horrified when I heard the water is coming and will be reaching our house. I did not know what would happen to me and my family. We were all very scared.”

As world leaders come together for the 25th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid this week, Save the Children is urging the international community to take greater steps to tackle the climate crisis and its impact on children around the world.

Ian Vale, Save the Children’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, said:

The findings of this analysis are grim, and show that the climate crisis is worsening inequality, poverty and displacement across East and Southern Africa. The climate crisis is happening here, and it’s killing people, forcing them from their homes and ruining children’s chance of a future.

These unrelenting emergencies are stretching the humanitarian system to breaking point. Repeated cycles of food insecurity from climate-related shocks is resulting in big gaps in funding and unmet humanitarian needs. We are reaching a crisis point in this region.

We urge world leaders to take decisive action to reduce the impact of climate change and ensure the lives and futures of our children are protected. We call on donors to increase and sustain funding for humanitarian assistance across East and Southern Africa, with initiatives linked to existing measures to increase children's protection, access to health and education, and livelihood support.”



[1] In South Sudan, 6.35 million people (54% of the population); Zimbabwe, 3.58 million people (25% of the population); Sudan, 5.8 million people (14% of the total population); Somalia, 2.1 million people (14% of the population); Zambia, 2.3 million people (13% of the population); Ethiopia, 6.7 million people (6% of the population); Malawi, 1.12 million people (6% of the population); Kenya 3.1 million people (6% of the population); Mozambique, 1.6 million people (5% of the population); Madagascar, 916,201 people (3% of the population) are experiencing Crisis or worse levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above).

[2] 10% of total under 18 population of the 10 countries [162,370,000]; population data from UNICEF population statistics – under 18 demographics and the World Bank

[3] A total of 1,272 deaths were found in publicly available data from 2019 which are the direct result of floods, landslides and cyclones in east and southern Africa: Mozambique 648 deaths; Zimbabwe 339 deaths; Kenya 95 deaths [source, source and source]; Sudan 78 deaths; Malawi 60 deaths; Ethiopia 30 deaths [source and source] Somalia 22 deaths;

[4] IPCC SPECIAL REPORT Global Warming of 1.5°C pg. 260 states temperatures have been rising in the subtropical regions of southern Africa at approximately twice the global rate over the last five decades (Engelbrecht et al., 2015).

[5] As per [4] pg. 197 Box 3.1 Sub-Saharan Africa: Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Extremes.

[6] UNICEF – Children, Environment and Climate change

[7] As per [3]

[8] 33,566,000 people at IPC 3+, of total 334,096,000 people living in the 10 countries

[9] As per [2]

[10] Latest cross-regional figures available from Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) Mid-year figures January 2019 – June 2019. Half-year data available for Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Mozambique, Sudan, Malawi and Zimbabwe only. All figures on page 4.

[11] A total of 1,023,000 displacements between January and June for Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Mozambique, Sudan, Malawi and Zimbabwe only, per [10] page 4.

[12] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200925-cyclone-kenneth-is-one-of-the-strongest-storms-to-hit-mainland-africa ; https://theconversation.com/why-the-indian-ocean-is-spawning-strong-and-deadly-tropical-cyclones-116559

[13] 1,021,600 total IDPs across the seven of the 10 countries as a result of non-conflict disasters in 2018 [Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 2018 Report]

[14] Based on estimates of most recent UN IDP figures for South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya

[15] Save the Children is the global leader in protecting children in emergencies and natural disasters, working with communities to set up evacuation routes, pre-position emergency supplies, fight against the effects of drought, and access clean water. Donate to help children affected by climate by climate shocks in the Horn of Africa here: https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/how-you-can-help/emergencies/horn-of-africa-crisis

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