One in five persons don’t have enough water in drought-stricken East Africa

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

One in five people in drought-stricken East Africa – a total of 33.5 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – don't have enough safe drinking water. Failed rain is predicted to persist for a sixth consecutive season by May, making this the longest drought on record.   

In some areas in Ethiopia, northern Kenya and Somalia, the cost of water has skyrocketed by 400 percent since January 2021, making remaining water out of reach for the 22.7 million people already facing acute hunger. In northern Kenya, 95% of water sources have dried up in pastoral areas like Marsabit and Turkana causing water prices to rise. 

“The hungriest people in the region are also the thirstiest. People have depleted their last penny as they lost their crops and animals. They now have to pay vendors who continuously hike water prices”, said Fati N’Zi-Hassane, Oxfam in Africa Director.  

The over two years drought has already killed more than 13 million livestock, dried up thousands of hectares of crops and driven 1.75 million people from their homes in search of water and food.  

In Somalia’s Bay region, where 76,000 people are already facing a famine like conditions, water prices have more than doubled. Families are being forced to make hard choices like selling off what little essential possessions they have left or moving in search of water.  

“Hundreds of thousands of people are now relying on emergency water trucking, or unprotected wells which are unsafe and contaminated. Without clean water, people are at risk of contracting easily preventable diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea and cholera”, added N’Zi-Hassane. 

26-year-old Khadra Omar, a resident from Mogadishu said: “people are now risking their lives consuming dirty water as a result of the drought.” 

“The past droughts were not this bad, we were able to get water but in this one, it has been impossible to get water, everything has dried up and the water that is available is very expensive for us to afford, people are now dying because of thirst” added Khadra. 

While famine has so far been averted in countries like Somalia, mostly due to an increase in humanitarian response – only 20 percent of the UN $7 billion appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has been funded to date, which will derail efforts to help millions of people on the brink. 

“The world should not turn its back on East Africa. Without an urgent and major increase in aid, many more people will die of hunger and thirst.” 

“The worsening hunger crisis in East Africa is a harsh reminder that we also need long-term solutions beyond immediate humanitarian relief, to help people cope with the recurrent shocks. National governments must lead that change by investing in social protection, water infrastructure and supporting food producers,” added N’Zi-Hassane.  

Notes to editors: 

The number of people projected to be in IPC3+ (crisis levels of worse) in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya reached 22.7 million (see Oxfam Regional Summary #13)  

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene figures to calculate level of need are from the Humanitarian Response Plans for Ethiopia and Somalia and the Drought Response Plan for Kenya.  

On boreholes and water sources drying see (for example): For Ethiopia “Dawa Zone Rapid Drought Assessment Report”, October 2021; For Kenya, OCHA’s “Kenya Drought Flash Appeal: October 2021-October 2022” and for Somalia, “Somalia WASH Cluster Humanitarian Dashboard” 9 March 2023 

Water price source: "Water Crisis In the Horn of Africa” UNICEF Advocacy Brief published on 22 August 2022. For exact price of water in Somalia, see OCHA Humanitarian Data Exchange datasets for Somalia Water Prices. In Bay region in Somalia for example, water prices rose from USD 43.90 a barrel of 200 litres in January 2021 to USD 98.33 by October 2022. Source 

IPC5 figures source: IPC “Somalia: Acute Food Insecurity Situation January - March 2023 and Projection for April - June 2023”  

Oxfam is currently supporting people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia by providing clean water and rapid and flexible cash assistance, matched with longer-term support to help communities be more resilient to the changing climate. Oxfam aims to reach 876,000 of the most impacted people by the first quarter of 2024.  

Data on UN appeals for Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are from the UNOCHA Financial Tracking Service as of 15 March 2023 

Contact information: 

Fatuma Noor | Regional Media and Communication Advisor 

Horn, East and Central Africa region | Tel : +254 723 944 682   


Diana Moraa | East Africa Media and Communication Coordinator 

Horn East Central Africa Region 

Email: | Tel: +254 780 740 025